“That was fine by me because I’m not sure I belonged to the Republican Party he created,” Boehner writes in “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” set to be released Tuesday.
In the epilogue, Boehner flatly states that he is glad to be out of elective politics given the party’s sharp distancing from its onetime heroes.
“I don’t even think I could get elected in today’s Republican Party anyway. I don’t think Ronald Reagan could either,” he writes in the book, a full copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.
The memoir, coming 5 1/2 years after he left Congress, serves as a rollicking, foul-mouthed recounting of Boehner’s 25 years on Capitol Hill, as well as his thoughts on the past, present and future of the GOP. Although he never held office during the Trump years, Boehner sets the stage for how the Republican Party ended up with the former real estate developer turned reality TV star as its standard-bearer.
Originally finished well before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as Congress certified President Biden’s victory, Boehner rewrote portions of the book to forcefully blame Trump for what he called “a low point for our country” that left him on the verge of tears.
“Trump incited that bloody insurrection for nothing more than selfish reasons, perpetuated by the b—shit he’d been shoveling since he lost a fair election the previous November. He claimed voter fraud without any evidence,” Boehner writes.
He draws a direct line from anti-establishment lawmakers he dealt with last decade to Republicans in Congress who supported Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election: “The legislative terrorism that I’d witnessed as speaker had now encouraged actual terrorism.”
Boehner has delivered a classic Washington “tell-all,” albeit one with his typical jocular style. His image on the book cover — smiling in a suit, holding a glass half-full of red wine and a lit Camel cigarette in an ashtray — conveys his old-school approach to politics.
There’s some bit of praise for almost everyone, mixed in with digs about their politics. Everyone except Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Boehner has nothing but harsh words over Cruz’s actions dating back to a 2013 federal government shutdown where the Texan played a starring role.
Congressional politics has grown only more coarse since Boehner left in October 2015 after serving four years as speaker, ending his battle to maintain power as a couple dozen conservatives rebelled against his leadership.
Now fully ensconced in the influence industry — Boehner serves on several corporate boards and is a senior adviser at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs — he goes out of his way to defend several of the most reviled institutions in Washington: bureaucrats Trump called “the deep state; lobbyists that Trump dubbed “the swamp”; and a press corps that Trump labeled the “enemy of the people.”
Although he addresses serious topics of the present and the past, Boehner makes clear his goal was not to write a “15-point plan to save the world” but an entertaining account of his time in public life.
“Get comfortable. Pour yourself a glass of something nice. You’re going to enjoy this,” Boehner writes, concluding the introduction.
What follows are some of the most notable parts of his memoir:
Boehner meets Trump
Boehner’s first impression of Trump, then a reality TV star, provided an early glimpse of Trump’s quick temper.
Boehner met the future president during a golf outing at Trump National in Westchester, N.Y., when he joined Boehner and two insurance executives for a round. He doesn’t say the date, but notes he was House minority leader then, so this encounter would have been between 2007 and 2011.
Before they set off, Trump asked a young Boehner staffer the names of the executives.
It was only after 18 holes that the two men summoned the courage to tell Boehner and Trump that they’d been calling them the wrong names all day. Boehner laughed, but Trump turned angry. “This sort of glower fell across his face,” Boehner writes. Then Trump got in the staffer’s face and berated him.
“What are you, some kind of idiot?” Trump shouted. “You want to know how to remember somebody’s name? You f—–g LISTEN!”
There “was something dark about” Trump’s reaction, Boehner observed.
“I’d never seen anybody treat a staffer like that — not in politics, not ever,” Boehner writes. “This was more than New York bluster. This was real anger, over something very, very small. We had no idea then what that anger would do to our country.”
Boehner on Pelosi
At several points in the book, Boehner compares himself to Nancy Pelosi, of whom he speaks with a mix of reverence and distaste for her leadership style as speaker.
In the first chapter, Boehner recalls when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) dethroned Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) as chairman of the powerful House Energy Committee. Pelosi (D-Calif.) officially stayed neutral, but Boehner said that “she was all over this. I could just smell it.”
“Pelosi had gutted Big John Dingell like a halibut she found floating around San Francisco Bay, then calmly sat back and had a cup of coffee afterward. His entrails were left on display for everyone in the House of Representatives to see — and to remember,” Boehner writes. “I don’t think Nancy relished mounting Dingell on her wall — she certainly didn’t brag about it — but that’s not the point. The point is she did it, and I have no doubt she slept just fine that night.”
Boehner later describes how Pelosi kept an “iron grip” on her members, not tolerating any “dissension in her ranks.”
“Even if I wanted to, I could never operate like Pelosi did,” he writes. “The fact was, I didn’t want to act that way, even though sometimes other people thought I should.”
House GOP shouldn’t have impeached Clinton
Boehner regrets his support for impeaching President Bill Clinton in 1998 because the House Republicans’ motives were purely political, he writes.
“I know what we all said at the time: Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath. In my view, Republicans impeached him for one reason and one reason only . . . Tom DeLay believed that impeaching Clinton would win us all these House seats, would be a big win politically, and he convinced enough of the membership and the GOP base that this was true.”
Boehner acknowledges that he supported the move at the time, but in retrospect doesn’t think Clinton’s behavior rose to impeachment charges.
“Clinton probably did commit perjury. That’s not a good thing. But lying about an affair to save yourself from embarrassment isn’t the same as lying about an issue of national security,” Boehner writes.
House Republicans’ gambit backfired and they lost five seats in the midterms that year.
Mark Meadows on his knees
Before he was Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows was a thorn in Boehner’s side while serving as a Republican congressman from North Carolina.
As founder of the Freedom Caucus, a group of far-right Republicans, Meadows was often in Boehner’s way.
Boehner had campaigned for Meadows in his first election, but in one of Meadows’s first actions as a freshman congressman, he voted against Boehner for speaker — “a vote that like many of the Freedom Caucus’s efforts ended in abject failure,” Boehner writes.
Soon after, Meadows asked for a private meeting. Within a few minutes in Boehner’s office, the congressman “dropped off the couch and was on his knees. Right there on my rug. That was a first. His hands came together in front of him as if he were about to pray,” Boehner recalls. He asked Boehner to forgive him.
“I was so startled I can’t remember exactly what the hell he was saying. For a moment, I wondered what his elite and uncompromising band of Freedom Caucus warriors would have made of their star organizer on the verge of tears, but that wasn’t my problem,” Boehner writes.
So Boehner took a “long, slow draw” of his cigarette and left Meadows there on his knees waiting. Then, after an extended silence, Boehner looked down at him asked, “For what?”
Boehner said he forgave him, but knew Meadows wouldn’t hesitate to cross him again.
His time as the ‘mayor of Crazytown’
Boehner was effectively cast out as House speaker thanks to a revolt among the more extreme elements of his conference. And his memoir is unsparing when it comes to his contempt for those members.
Boehner reflects that even after becoming speaker, he saw where the party was going. He calls 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin “one of the chief crazies” in the party but says he understood Sen. John McCain’s motivation in picking her as his running mate to fire up the base.
Boehner says he was already living in “Crazytown,” and “when I took the Speaker’s gavel in 2011, two years into the Obama presidency, I became its mayor. Crazytown was populated by jackasses, and media hounds, and some normal citizens as baffled as I was about how we got trapped inside the city walls. Every second of every day since Barack Obama became president I was fighting one bats — t idea after another.”
Boehner’s disregard for these elements has been well-established — and particularly his disdain for the man he describes as the ringleader of the tea party movement. In a Politico op-ed adapted from the book last week, Boehner describes how birtherism and other maladies infected his party, and in audio leaked from his audiobook recording sessions he directs vulgar insults at Cruz.
Boehner urged people who want to actually fix Washington to “send people there to represent you who actually want to get things done instead of hucksters making pie-in-the-sky promises or legislative terrorists just looking to go to Washington and blow everything up.”
Tough verdict for McCain
Palin isn’t the only member of the 2008 GOP presidential ticket who Boehner criticizes.
To be clear, he professes admiration for McCain (R-Ariz). But he also casts him as out of his element and over his skis when it came to a late gambit in the 2008 presidential race to suspend his campaign and insert himself into a bank bailout bill, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), during the financial crisis.
“Then almost out of nowhere, Senator John McCain decided to pop in. This was the last thing anyone needed — including, as it turned out, John himself,” Boehner writes, adding that McCain should have stayed on the campaign trail.
He says McCain showed up without any actual ideas. He said he asked the GOP presidential nominee what the plan was, only to have McCain turn the question on him. When he asked McCain what he planned to say in a key meeting, he says McCain asked him what he should say.
“If I’d had a cigarette in my mouth, I might have swallowed it,” Boehner said, adding: “Now it was clear: there wasn’t anybody who was going to get us out of this mess.”
On the ‘Deep State’ and lobbyists
The former speaker blasts Trump’s accusations that bureaucrats within agencies such as the Justice Department and CIA were part of a “massive conspiracy against America.”
“There is something very destructive — not to mention delusional — about the notion that there is some plot deep within the nation’s capital — in the FBI, in the federal courts, in the intelligence community — to undermine democratically elected officials,” he writes.
Boehner defends lobbyists as “educators” who have expertise on many issues, even if the nature of their work seems to make them political villains.
“If you listen to the lobbyists, you’re going to know exactly what that language you are voting on actually does, and how it affects real people,” writes Boehner, who works with lobbyists but has never registered as one.
Cigarettes and alcohol
Two of Boehner’s trademarks during his time in Washington were his smoking habit and his love of a good glass of red wine. In his memoir, he tells the tale of both.
When Boehner was 19 years old he weighed 273 pounds and was teetering close to a size 40 pants. Determined to lose the weight, he came up with a diet plan: Three meals a day and a cigarette in between whenever he felt hungry.
Everyone smoked then, even pregnant women, he writes, “so give me a little bit of a break, please.”
He lost 85 pounds, trading bad eating habits for the lifelong bad habit of smoking.
Boehner explains it wasn’t always his beverage of choice, particularly growing up in a shot-and-beer tavern outside Cincinnati, Andy’s Cafe, named after his grandfather.
“Once you start to get a little older, beer just fills you up too much with all that carbonation. Too much bloat. So then, as a ‘young professional,’ I switched to old fashioneds,” he writes, explaining how sugar and bitters softened the bourbon. “But if you’ve got a long night ahead of you, you usually find that drinking liquor for several hours is pretty much unsustainable. Plus, nothing that sweet can be good for you in the long run. And so I settled on wine. Drinking wine is a marathon, not a sprint, and makes sense for the more mature drinker.”
Although merlot has been a Boehner staple, he is also a fan of cabernet sauvignon and, when he eats at his favorite Capitol Hill Italian restaurant, Trattoria Alberto, he drinks a chianti — while he downs “Veal alla Boehner.”
What’s that? “It’s a lightly breaded thin piece of veal with two fried eggs and anchovies on top — delicious. Apparently it went off the official menu after I left town, but if you ask nicely I’m sure they’ll make it for you. Trust me, it’s worth it.”