Big moments in Boehner's nearly 5 years as House speaker

AP News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2015 10:28 PM
Big moments in Boehner's nearly 5 years as House speaker

WASHINGTON (AP) — As he prepares to step down next month, a look at big moments in John Boehner's nearly five years as House speaker:

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RISE TO POWER

The Republicans captured control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections, propelled by the birth of the tea party and anger at President Barack Obama. Already his party's House leader, Boehner was set to rise to the top job: speaker of the House.

Overcome with emotion on election night, he told his troops, "We have real work to do, and this is not a time for celebration."

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NO GRAND BARGAIN

In 2011, Boehner and Obama met secretly in hopes of negotiating a "grand bargain" that would rein in the nation's spending, raise some taxes and fix the finances of social programs such as Medicaid. The talks fell through. Each side blamed the other.

That increased the risk of stumbling into a market-rattling default on the nation's debts. House Republicans refused to vote to raise the nation's borrowing limit unless Obama agreed to an equivalent roster of spending cuts.

The standoff caused turmoil in the stock market and led the rating agency Standard & Poor's to downgrade the nation's credit rating for the first time ever.

Congress and Obama averted a shutdown with an agreement that tried to dump the big decisions about spending and taxes to a so-called "budget supercommittee." But that panel's failure led to crunching automatic cuts.

After Obama won re-election the following year, he and Boehner tried and failed again to come to agreement. The White House instead negotiated a deal with the Senate to raise tax rates on upper-bracket earners, and Boehner brought it before the House rather than allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire entirely.

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GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

In the fall of 2013, Boehner stood back as his party's most strident conservatives pushed a strategy that led to a 16-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government.

Against Boehner's better judgment, House Republicans insisted any bill to keep the government running must also defund or in some way hobble Obama's landmark health care overhaul. Senate Democrats refused.

More than 800,000 federal workers were sent home, and polls show Republicans bore the brunt of the blame.

Eventually the House agreed to reopen the government without achieving any victory over the program that its foes branded "Obamacare."

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LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES

Boehner put down a challenge to his leadership in January 2013, when a band of conservatives staged a mini-revolt. They accused him of surrendering in their feuds with Democrats. Twelve Republicans refused to vote for Boehner, a rare level of protest from within a speaker's own party.

Two years later, twice as many party members — 25 — defected from Boehner. Still, he kept his job, with no realistic alternative on offer.

But the dissent marred his speakership and left him open to talk in recent days of another conservative uprising against him.

Boehner said Friday he had no doubts he would have survived a challenge to his leadership, but had been quietly planning to step down by the end of this year, anyway, and didn't want to put the party through unnecessary turmoil.

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WELCOMING A POPE

One of Boehner's final acts as speaker was a powerfully personal moment.

Boehner, who is Roman Catholic, tried for 20 years to get a pontiff to address Congress — something that had never happened before Thursday, when Boehner welcomed Pope Francis to the House chamber and stood with him on a Capitol balcony overlooking a cheering throng of tens of thousands.

Boehner, visibly moved as he met with the pope, later called it a "wonderful day."

On Friday he described the "really emotional moment that really no one saw."

"As the pope and I were getting ready to exit the building, we found ourselves alone. And the pope grabbed my left arm, and said some very kind words to me about my commitment to kids and education. And the pope puts his arm around me, and kind of pulls me to him and says, 'Please pray for me.'

"Well, who am I to pray for the pope?" Boehner said. "But I did."

Friday evening, the Vatican spokesman was asked if Pope Francis knew about Boehner's resignation, or had any sense of it during the meeting. The Rev. Federico Lombardi said he hadn't spoken to the pope about it, but he said Francis was "impressed how the speaker was emotionally moved yesterday during the meeting with him ... recalling his Catholic experience and education and also, as he accompanied him to the balcony to greet the people. The pope said to me that he was impressed by the profound participation and the emotion of the speaker yesterday."

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Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.