Salena Zito

WASHINGTON -- John Boehner says it was at his family's tavern in Cincinnati that he learned all the skills he needs for his job as House minority leader.

“Great food. Great people. I did dishes. I waited tables. I tended bar. … You learn real quick how to deal with the jackass that walks in the door,” Boehner says during an interview in his office in the Capitol.

Boehner, 59, is the 21st minority leader of the House, elected by the GOP caucus in January 2007. A representative of Ohio's 8th Congressional District, Boehner won election in 1990 on the cusp of the Republican Revolution.

On both sides of the aisle, Boehner earns praise for candor and an ability to listen.

"I not only consider Boehner a friend, but I also admire his fairness and accessibility,” says Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Forest Hills.

Doyle recounts the time he called then-Majority Leader Boehner with a request: “Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor had just passed away. I wanted to have the House pass a resolution to honor the mayor for his family and the city.”

As leader, Boehner controlled motions scheduled to be voted upon, and he told Doyle he'd see what he could do. A couple days later, Doyle was on the House floor, holding the signed, sealed and delivered resolution honoring O’Connor.

The tide has turned, and Boehner finds himself relegated to being in charge of the minority.

"Being minority leader is a terribly hard job to be good at,” says Steve Elmendorf, longtime chief of staff to former Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who served as majority and minority leader over his career. “You basically have to go out and lose every day. It is pretty brutal.”

And indeed, lose -- primarily on budget issues and the economic stimulus package -- is what Boehner and Republicans have done through the first 100-plus days of the Obama administration.

So, what does Boehner think of the new president and the new Congress so far?

“I’ve been shocked. I knew we were going to have a new Democrat president and a bigger Democrat Congress,” Boehner says, “but I would never have guessed that we’d see an $800 billion stimulus bill that had almost nothing to do with stimulating the economy.”

Boehner calls the stimulus “wasteful government spending” enhanced “with 9,000 earmarks that nobody had ever seen before.

“And if all that isn’t bad enough, then we have this budget proposal that has on average trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see. ... This is scary stuff.”


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.