By Jessica Wehrman
WASHINGTON – After five turbulent years at the helm of the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner knew exactly how to say goodbye Thursday morning.
He lifted up a box of tissues to display to the crowd The 435 members of the House roared in laughter. Boehner, known for his public tears, is nothing if not well aware of his foibles. In fact, he has relished them.
“I leave the way I started,” he told the House. “Just a regular guy, humbled by the chance to do a big job. That’s what I’m most proud of – that I’m still just me.”
He left proud, he said, of making “real entitlement reforms,” of protecting 99 percent of Americans from tax increases and on making “the most significant spending reductions in modern history.”
“I am proud of these things,” he said, “but the mission is not complete, and the truth is, it may never be…freedom makes all things possible. But patience is what makes all things real.”
Ryan takes office
Republicans rallied behind Rep. Paul Ryan to elect him the House’s 54th speaker on Thursday as a splintered GOP turned to the youthful but battle-tested lawmaker to mend its self-inflicted wounds and craft a conservative message to woo voters in next year’s elections.
In a slow-moving roll call that mixed politics with pageantry, 236 Republicans called out the Wisconsin Republican’s name as their pick for the top job. That put Ryan second in line to the presidency and atop a chamber that has been awash in tumult ever since defiant conservatives hounded Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, into announcing his resignation from that post last month.
Just nine hard-line conservatives against Ryan, instead backing the little-known Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla. Most of them, including members of the rebellious House Freedom Caucus, backed Ryan, though it was clear that future tensions between them and Ryan could not be discounted.
Watching the vote from the visitors’ gallery was Mitt Romney, the GOP’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential nominee who vaulted Ryan, 45, to national prominence by selecting him as his vice presidential running mate. Also in the audience were Ryan’s wife Janna and their three young children, who gained some attention after Ryan insisted he would take the time-draining speaker’s post only if he could carve out time with his family.
Boehner bids farewell
After five years where basically everyone – Democrats, Republicans and the hard-line conservatives that often gave him so much trouble – agreed that he had the toughest job in town, Boehner, bidding farewell, received an affectionate farewell.
The House laughed at his jokes. They applauded him warmly. And when his speech concluded, they gave him a standing ovation for nearly two minutes.
“I leave with no regrets, no burdens,” he said.
He ended by talking about his humble beginnings as a bar owner’s son in southern Ohio. He lived, he said, in a small house at the top of a hill “just off the main drag in Reading, Ohio” where his life was “a chase for the American dream.”
“We are the luckiest people on the face of the Earth,” he said. “In America, you can do anything if you’re willing to work hard and make the necessary sacrifices.
“If you falter – and you will – you can just dust yourself off and keep on going.”
Then he sat in the Speaker’s chair for the last time as members overwhelmingly elected Rep. Paul Ryan, a onetime Boehner campaign volunteer, as his successor. Every Democrat in Ohio’s House delegation voted for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Every Republican in the state’s House delegation voted for Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.
Boehner was the last to vote. When his name was called, he yelled out Ryan’s name in a loud, clear voice.
Then he waited to greet the next Speaker of the House before slowly making his way down the aisle, stopping frequently to say goodbye to colleagues including Reps. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo and Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, who crossed from the Democrat side of the House floor to say goodbye to their Ohio colleague.
This time, he wasn’t the only one on the House floor wiping away tears.
Boehner proud of his work in Congress
Boehner said he’s proud of the work he’s done as a member of Congress from Ohio’s 8th District which includes Butler, Clark, Miami, Preble, Darke and part of Mercer counties.
He said he’s having no second thoughts about his decision to resign under conservative pressure, leaving Congress before the end of his term.
Earlier this month, Boehner told Washington Bureau reporter Jessica Wehrman that he developed a thick hide in the speaker’s job.
“You’re going to have this job, you’re going to have people criticize you every day,” he said. “You just get used to it.”
He admitted Congress is far more polarized today than it was 20 years ago.
“The Congress reflects their constituents,” he said, “and as we’ve watched over the last 20 years people were getting hundreds of times more information about their Congress than they ever got before … it’s tended to pull or push people into one or two camps, leaving fewer people in the middle.”
Boehner said he’d given Ryan lots of advice. Chief among it: “This is the loneliest place in the world,” Boehner said. “Almost as lonely as the presidency.”
Boehner‘s biggest regret, he said, was not finalizing a major budget deal with President Barack Obama in 2011 that would put the country on a much sounder fiscal footing.
That failure “still stings,” said Boehner. But he demurred on getting drawn into why it was tough to work for Obama, saying he’d save such reflections for a book.
Boehner said he wasn’t aware of anything he could have done differently to deal with the House Freedom Caucus, the group of hard-line conservatives who pushed him toward the exits by threatening a floor vote on his speakership after complaining of his penchant for compromise.
The 65-year-old has worked every day of his life since he had a paper route at age 8, and claimed to have no idea what he’ll do next. Golf and time with his first grandchild — who he joked will address him as “Mr. Speaker” — will play a big part.
“It’s the Congress,” Boehner said. “We’ve been America’s favorite whipping boy for 200 years. And guess what. Two hundred years from now they’re going to be saying the same thing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.