As part of the ongoing examination of whether John Boehner is actually good at his job, there’s fresh evidence of a lingering problem: As House Speakers go, this one is very weak.
I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, necessarily. Rather, I mean it in a literal, procedural sense – Boehner leads a caucus that’s increasingly disinclined to follow him.
With internally divisive fights over religion and the budget looming, Speaker John Boehner’s leadership is showing increasing signs of wear and tear, according to GOP lawmakers who warn that his often laissez-faire approach has encouraged dissension and open defiance among the rank and file.
Since taking the gavel, the Ohio Republican has explicitly pursued an approach to leadership that rejects the traditional top-down, carrot-and-stick approach of former Speakers, such as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in favor of a more hands-off style.
But that decision has come at a cost to Boehner. While his continued leadership of the party is not in doubt, in multiple interviews his colleagues said the Speaker’s desire to use a more open approach has made shepherding his raucous Conference increasingly difficult.
One Republican House member told Roll Call that this election year, the intra-party, intra-chamber divisions are likely to get even messier. Boehner’s style leadership leads “to a climate … [of] ‘Eh, who cares. What’s he going to do to me?’” the GOP lawmaker said, adding that at some point members will simply say, “Sorry, we’re not going back to that well.”
In fairness to Boehner, he’s still something of a rookie in this gig, and maybe his competence and leadership abilities will emerge in time. But looking back over the last several decades, we haven’t seen a House Speaker this ineffectual in generations. This is generally considered one of the most powerful positions in the federal government, and Boehner seems to be shrinking, both in stature and influence.
Some of this is the result of a sudden, large majority – Boehner leads a massive freshman class, and since they didn’t even know the man up until a year ago, he hasn’t cultivated a lengthy relationship with any of them. For that matter, these freshmen are far to the right of any caucus in modern American history, which makes their tolerance for compromises and concessions practically nonexistent. Boehner’s been around Capitol Hill for a long while, and he doesn’t know how to play the game by the rules Tea Party freshmen prefer, especially when the other party controls the Senate and White House.
Whatever the cause, the end result is the same: Boehner may wield the Speaker’s gavel, but he hasn’t demonstrated much of an ability to lead anyone, anywhere. It’s why Congress can’t pass meaningful legislation; why Boehner has brought offers, hat in hand, to his caucus, only to be shot down; and why the institution has the lowest approval rating since the dawn of modern polling.
Now that it’s reached the point at which members feel comfortable telling reporters, “What’s he going to do to me?” Boehner probably shouldn’t get too comfortable in his office.