Boehner Reaches Into Bag of Tricks to Disrupt Democrats

John Boehner

WASHINGTON — Representative John A. Boehner came to Washington in 1991 as a rabble-rousing Republican willing to disrupt the House to score points against powerful Democrats. Now, as the House Republican leader in a town again dominated by Democrats, the Ohioan is back to his old tricks.

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Representative John A. Boehner uses various means to make a political case for Republicans.


Mr. Boehner Speaking Against the Climate Change Bill (YouTube)Video

Mr. Boehner Speaking Against the Climate Change Bill (YouTube)


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Trying to build opposition to a climate change measure being considered as the Fourth of July recess loomed, Mr. Boehner commandeered the floor for an hour to mount an unofficial filibuster and ridicule the legislation. He has sanctioned efforts by rank-and-file Republicans to tie up the House with dozens of procedural votes. During the debate on the economic stimulus, he threw the huge bill to the floor with a theatrical thump.

“There are times when the majority just does such outrageous things that you have to find a way to make your point to the American people,” said Mr. Boehner, who began his House career as one of the so-called Gang of Seven, a group of Republican upstarts that confronted Democrats over the House banking scandal and other institutional abuses.

Mr. Boehner has various motivations for using whatever means are at his disposal to make a political case. Republicans portray the climate measure as a flawed threat to the economy. Given the fact that his party is almost totally powerless, a little stagecraft can be the only way to get attention. Then there is the issue of bolstering morale among his beleaguered House colleagues, who said they were energized by Mr. Boehner’s performance against the energy bill.

“Our side has been waiting for somebody to swing back,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, who predicted Mr. Boehner’s efforts would elevate him in national Republican circles.

But Democrats say Mr. Boehner’s tactics smack of desperation.

“Obviously, he talked for a long time and did not persuade a majority of the people,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a member of the Democratic leadership, after Mr. Boehner’s scathing attack on the bill failed to scare off enough legislators to defeat it.

Mr. Boehner grabbed the floor by stretching his rights as Republican leader. While debate time is carefully meted out in the House, tradition allows the speaker and the two party leaders to talk as long they like even though they may have been formally allotted only a minute. Such remarks typically run 5 or 10 minutes.

In Mr. Boehner’s case, he was given two minutes, a period he extended to over an hour as he picked almost page-by-page through a 300-page amendment that was added to the climate change bill in the early morning hours the day of the vote. An hour of time during a House floor debate is virtually unheard of for one person.

The stunt did not quite reach the level of former Representative Jim Nussle of Iowa, a fellow member of the Gang of Seven, who wore a bag over his head on the House floor in professed embarrassment at overdrafts run up by his colleagues at the House bank. But it was certainly reminiscent of Mr. Boehner’s maverick days of using C-Span time to full advantage.

In fact, Republicans are regularly reaching back for their Greatest Hits in challenging Democrats. A Rube Goldberg-like chart produced by Mr. Boehner’s office showing the enforcement of the proposed climate bill bore more than a passing resemblance to a convoluted Republican chart that helped undo the Clinton administration health care proposal in 1993.

On Thursday, House Republicans reprised a famous 1984 Senate race advertisement to show bloodhounds in search of elusive jobs supposedly being created by the Obama administration’s economic stimulus law.

Democrats say Republicans might want to get with the times.

“It is not just their tactics that are from yesterday, but their policies are from a period when Americans lost their economic edge,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

Republicans believe they can turn the energy fight to their favor. Mr. Boehner and his aides said his Boehner-buster brought thousands of favorable calls to his office, was a hit among Twitter followers and has been seen thousands of times on YouTube.

“This is where the new media tools do help us,” said Mr. Boehner. He said he received vocal encouragement for his push against the energy bill from spectators as he played in a Pro-Am golf tournament with Tiger Woods outside Washington on Wednesday.

Mr. Boehner’s early confrontations with Democrats earned him a spot in the leadership when House Republicans took over in 1994. But he lost that slot in a 1999 shake-up and spent time in exile before winning back a top job in 2006 when Tom DeLay, the majority leader at the time, ran into trouble.

His comrades in the Gang of Seven — Mr. Nussle, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Scott Klug of Wisconsin, Charles H. Taylor of North Carolina, and John Doolittle and Frank Riggs of California — are long gone from Congress, leaving Mr. Boehner to carry on.

“I think showing the American people that there are people willing to take a principled stand in Washington is a very good thing,” he said.

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