Since taking the gavel in 2011, House Speaker
But not since 1947 has a Republican enjoyed the kind of House majority that Boehner will probably head next year. Combined with the new
On Thursday, Boehner easily won his party's support to head the newly enlarged Republican conference, putting him on a path to become the second-longest-serving Republican House speaker in history.
"To whom much has been given, much is expected," a teary-eyed Boehner told his conference in a private meeting in the Capitol complex. His formal election as speaker will come after a vote of the full House in January.
But while his hold on power has never looked more secure, it's unclear whether the Ohio Republican is ready or able to capitalize on it. In fact, the perma-bronzed, chain-smoking son of a bar owner seems to have gone out of his way in recent days to keep expectations in check, warning that President
So far Boehner has not articulated exactly what the GOP legislative agenda will be. Before the election, he outlined fairly broad priorities, including tax reform, spending restraints and expanded school choice. He promised the House would renew its effort to repeal the president's healthcare law, though prospects for such legislation are dim in the closely divided Senate and would certainly be vetoed by the president.
Absent from that checklist is what strategists say will be crucial to broadening his party's appeal:
The issue arose again Thursday, presenting Boehner with his first leadership test since the election. Leaders in both parties have been preparing a major spending bill that would fund the government through the fall of 2015, potentially clearing the deck for Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader
But some conservatives are pressing GOP leaders to pass only a short-term measure, perhaps of a month or two, in part to give Republicans leverage to counteract Obama's likely executive action to grant legal status to about 5 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
"I told the president last week directly: If you proceed with executive amnesty, not only can you forget about getting immigration reform enacted during your presidency, you can also expect it to jeopardize other issues as well," Boehner told his members Thursday, according to a source inside the meeting.
But the standoff would also be an unwelcome distraction for Boehner, endangering his ability to push through a legislative agenda in the coming year that will be key to his own legacy as he approaches what most expect to be his final term as speaker.
Boehner and his relatively new leadership team, which includes Rep.
But with bolstered numbers, the election strengthened Boehner's hand in battling the right flank of his own party.
Republicans already have secured 244 seats in the new House, with five races still too close to call or to be determined by runoff elections. That's the most since 246 Republicans served in what President Truman derisively called a "do-nothing Congress" in his 1948 election campaign.
The expanded numbers may give Boehner room to work around what critics today call the "just-say-no" caucus, consisting of mostly small-government advocates opposed to virtually any new government program.
GOP leaders say Boehner's negotiating clout has also been improved because several conservatives who battled the speaker in the past, including some elected in the tea party wave of 2010, appear to have learned the shortcomings of brinkmanship politics.
The GOP bore the brunt of last year's highly unpopular government shutdown, a strategy advocated by Sen.
"Now that we can actually fire with live ammunition, we can actually put legislation on the president's desk," said conservative Rep.
For Boehner, the new dynamic "might be more fun for him," Fleming said.
Boehner also can claim credit for helping build the new majority, holding 150 events for incumbents and candidates across the country in addition to raising more than $100 million for his and other Republican campaign committees.
Even those who have previously butted heads with Boehner, such as Rep.
"This past year felt very different from our previous three," said Schweikert, who was first elected in 2010. "They're actually listening to some of my ideas."
To be sure, many of the incoming freshmen are as much firebrands as those who came before.
Among them are Georgia's Jody Hice, the Baptist minister and talk-radio host who fought the
Outside conservative groups — which have publicly clashed with Boehner over the last year — show no signs of backing down. Chris Chocola, a former GOP congressman and president of the Club for Growth, which has targeted Republican incumbents viewed as insufficiently conservative, said his organization would be closely watching how Boehner proceeded.
"I've always said that I think Boehner is personally a conservative," Chocola said. "I wish he'd lead in a way that reflected his own voting record more aggressively, and this may be his opportunity to do that."