John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015, laments in his new memoir, On the House, that by that point, the “crazies” in his party were more or less running the show. Throughout the book, he repeatedly asserts his distaste for the tea-party types and hard-right bomb-throwers who swept into Congress in the 2010-midterms “shellacking” of Democrats (though their success allowed him to take up the Speaker’s gavel).
Republican lawmakers of this new breed are merely agents of chaos, Boehner now says, more interested in promoting themselves than governing, egged on by a ravenous media that needs to feed 24-hour news coverage — the more outrageous, the better.
Boehner was a politician of the old school, and he romanticizes the era in which he came up as one when deals were struck over drinks or on the golf course and members of opposing parties could actually be friends. He paints himself as a moderating voice of reason during his tenure as Speaker — which is debatable, to say the least — though it’s clear that he’s passionate about the seemingly lost art of legislating.
But Boehner’s 25 years in office weren’t all about backroom machinations and deal-making; he has plenty of colorful stories to tell, like getting a ten-inch knife pulled on him on the House floor. In delivering these gossipy tales, he’s foulmouthed and folksy, and he has no compunction about sharing his often unflattering opinions about various former colleagues.
Here are some takeaways:
Nancy Pelosi is a master politician
“Nancy Pelosi has a killer instinct and may be the most powerful Speaker ever,” Boehner says of his successor. She understands power, knows how to use it, and rarely “leaves fingerprints.”
Boehner illustrates this point with a story about when, in 2008, Representative Henry Waxman ousted the powerful and much-feared chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, John Dingell, thanks in large part to Pelosi’s work behind the scenes. She had “gutted Big John Dingle like a halibut she found floating around the San Francisco Bay, then calmly sat back and had a cup of coffee,” Boehner says.
If Pelosi has a flaw, according to Boehner, it’s that she speaks too often on the House floor and can be long-winded.
Mark Meadows literally got down on his knees in Boehner’s office
Following a failed attempt to overthrow Boehner as Speaker in 2015, Representative Mark Meadows — a Freedom Caucus founder who would later serve as President Trump’s chief of staff — came to Boehner’s office and got on his knees to beg for forgiveness.
“I hadn’t expected to see a grown man huddled on the rug at my feet,” Boehner says. “So I did the only thing that came to mind. I took a long, slow drag of my Camel cigarette. Let the tension hang there a little, you know?”
While Boehner eventually gave Meadows a pass, he adds, “I knew he was carrying a backpack full of knives and sooner or later he’d try to cut me again with them.”
Boehner regrets supporting Clinton’s impeachment
Boehner says Bill Clinton was a fantastic talker, though he could be too slick for his own good. “He could steal your watch right in front of you and you’d be grateful when he told you the time,” Boehner writes.
He says he regrets voting for Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 and wishes he had fought against it. “Lying about an affair to save yourself from embarrassment isn’t the same as lying about an issue of national security,” he explains.
Boehner found Obama “too cool for school”
Boehner describes the former president as arrogant, “lecturing, and haughty,” but also says that “at the negotiating table Obama was the coolest customer God ever put on this earth.” In a bit of revisionist history, Boehner insists that Republicans were willing to work with Obama on his stimulus bill, despite the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously declared that his top priority was to make Obama “a one-term president,” and that Boehner himself said of Obama’s agenda, “We’re going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.”
He really, really can’t stand Ted Cruz
It’s no secret that Ted Cruz is pretty much universally loathed. (Boehner writes, “Even Mitch McConnell hated Ted Cruz with a passion I didn’t know Mitch had in him.”) Boehner says of Cruz, “There is nothing more dangerous than a reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else.” Boehner’s main beef with Cruz was his “dumbass idea,” in November 2013, to tie a Republican vote to raise the debt ceiling to killing Obamacare, which eventually led to a government shutdown. In Boehner’s telling, he didn’t support the plan but felt like he was outnumbered by his caucus, so he went along with it publicly.
Boehner apparently recorded the On the House audiobook with a glass of wine in hand and went off script more than once. If you do spring for the audiobook, you can hear Boehner add, at the end of his ruminations on freedom: “P.S. Ted Cruz, go fuck yourself.”