WASHINGTON — After two years of being front and center in the GOP's fight with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner seems to be missing in action from messaging and legislative battles, worried Republicans told BuzzFeed this week.
True, Boehner still does one or more on-air press events a week, and aides said he's actively preparing for the fiscal fights looming on the horizon. But with no presidential nominee to be the party's public face and set its agenda, that role has fallen to the Ohio Republican. And his members worry he's not doing enough.
"He is actively hitting his marks nationally; he's fundraising and he's doing everything a speaker is required to do," said a Republican congressman, who asked not to be named so he could speak freely. But "much has fallen to [Majority Leader] Eric Cantor and [Whip Kevin] McCarthy for the legislative load here, near as anyone can tell. That is markedly different than the last Congress. He's disengaged, and that's not helpful. This place has to be actively managed if we are going to achieve results."
Another member remarked that Boehner seemed to be "a bit checked out" when it comes to the day-to-day duties of running the House, leaving the agenda — and the blame when things go wrong — to Cantor.
When Cantor brought a bill to the floor to transfer money from one part of Obamacare to another, conservatives revolted, arguing it prolonged the life of the health-care law they hate. The bill would have extended the funding for high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions.
When the bill was pulled last minute from the floor, Boehner came out unscathed.
"Cantor is getting the blame because Cantor is the one actually trying to do something," a Republican congressman said.
Aides say that Boehner is actively working behind the scenes to move the conference forward, an effort that began in January with passing the No Budget, No Pay Act that Republicans argue forced the Senate to produce their first budget in four years. And some of his absence from Capitol Hill has to do with Boehner's intense fundraising swing: He's done more than 100 events this year for the House GOP.
"Speaker Boehner is at the forefront of efforts to hold the Obama administration accountable, help our House Republican team, and show the American people we have a plan to deal with their number one priority: jobs and the economy. Anyone who doesn't see that, frankly, just isn't paying attention," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
And allies say Boehner's noticeable shift in style can be attributed to a young conference — and now more experienced leadership team — maturing after the 2012 election. The constant crises and election politics that consumed the 112th Congress have waned, allowing Boehner to take a more hands-off approach.
"I think he's probably a little more laid-back, and I think he's letting events work towards him as opposed to trying to force events," said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole. "I think he's more comfortable right now in the sense that our majority, having gotten through a tough year, is maturing and going to last a while and there's an acceptance of the reality that we are going to deal with this president for four years."
Cole argued that the rest of Boehner's leadership team, Cantor and McCarthy, have grown into their roles. And now that the House majority has "proven it can survive," Cole said, Boehner is in a better position to "let the House work its will."
"We seem to be moving back toward regular order a little bit more, so again I think the pace is different, but I think it's the appropriate pace," he said. "Yeah, everybody is a little more comfortable this time around, but going a little slower seems to be working better."
A Boehner ally said that Boehner was still upset he had not been able to reach a broad fiscal deal with President Obama in the last Congress, contributing to his change in attitude.
"The truth is Obama is engaged in politics. And that saddens Boehner because I do think he'd like to get something done. Reid doesn't care, and Obama says that he does, but hasn't shown any real try," the member said. "He can't force the president to lead, or force the president to engage to strike some sort of grand bargain. And that is why he's different than last Congress."
But the slower pace isn't exactly satisfying to some in the conference, who say they miss the Speaker's passion and energy that they feel is lacking heading into a heavy legislative season that will include another debt limit battle and the House strategy for how to tackle immigration legislation.
"Maybe it just goes back to his original comment of wanting to let the House work its will, but I think leadership means more than that. You don't just get up and gavel in in the morning and go back to your office," the member said.
Some of Boehner's chief critics in the House, like Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, said they haven't really seen a difference in style within the House leadership: It's still unsatisfactory to them.
"I would like to see him uphold the Hastert rule about bringing bills to the floor. We don't see that happening this Congress, we did not see that happening last Congress," Broun said. "They do seek members council and I've counciled our leadership to have, at a minimum, one bill on the floor every month to repeal Obamacare or parts of it. I think we need to do that once a month."
Kate Nocera is the managing editor for BuzzFeed’s Washington, DC bureau. Nocera is a recipient of the National Press Foundation's 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting on Congress.
Contact Kate Nocera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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