‘If he were a woman, they’d be calling him the weakest speaker in history’


Watching House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) make strange comments this morning about the IRS controversy reminded me of something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Chris Hayes the other day about the Speaker: “If he were a woman, they’d be calling him the weakest speaker in history.” Asked why, Pelosi added, “Because nothing’s getting done.”

That’s true. We’ve talked on several occasions in recent years about a straightforward thesis: Speaker Boehner is bad at his job. In recent weeks, however, a related-but-different thesis has come into focus: Speaker Boehner is no longer really trying to do his job.

Ask Speaker John Boehner a question on a key issue these days, and you’re likely to get a variation of the same response: Talk to someone else.

The Speaker has maintained a lower-key presence in recent months, largely avoiding the spotlight and abandoning the deal-making ambitions of his first two years in office. Whether the matter is immigration, guns, budget talks or online sales taxes, Boehner (R-Ohio) routinely defers or deflects questions to committee leaders.

I’d add one addendum to that last part: ask Boehner about nearly any issue, and if he doesn’t refer questions to committee chairs, he’ll refer questions to the Senate.

I suppose, in fairness, it’s worth emphasizing that it’s not necessary to draw a value judgment here. Boehner seems to have deliberately abandoned any hope of leading, legislating, or even influencing the policymaking process, but that’s his right. Maybe he likes “leading from behind.” Perhaps he’s trying out a new model for the Speaker’s office – one in which the leader becomes the bystander, and the Speaker just waits to see how events unfold around him.

Regardless, “worried Republicans” told BuzzFeed last week that Boehner “seems to be missing in action from messaging and legislative battles.”

That’s partly due to Boehner’s inability to lead, and partly due to the fact that House Republicans are deeply divided among themselves. But whatever the cause, Pelosi’s assessment seems more than fair.

Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner

'If he were a woman, they'd be calling him the weakest speaker in history'