x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Bush legacy endures in the likely speaker of the House

John Boehner, the next speaker of the US House of Representatives, is a Republican critic of Obama's foreign policy.

WASHINGTON // There is nothing subtle about what John Boehner, now Barack Obama's chief political nemesis, thinks about US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Mr Boehner, the soon-to-be leader of the now Republican-controlled lower house of US Congress, has criticised what he and others see as a turn away from America's traditional ally, Israel, by the Obama administration. He has described Israel as "an island of freedom surrounded by a sea of oppression and hate", which the US government should defend against both violence and international criticism.

Following Mr Obama's response to the Gaza flotilla raid, which he described as "a loss of life that was unnecessary", Mr Boehner went one step further, saying that America's credibility in the world was inextricably tied to its position on Israel.

"We've coddled our enemies and pushed our friends aside in the process," Mr Boehner said. "We're raising a lot of doubts around the world, including the people of Israel who are having serious doubts about our commitment to them, our closest ally in the Middle East."

Born into a family of Kennedy Democrats in Cincinnati, Mr Boehner quickly rose to prominence in the Republican Party since his election to represent the midwestern state of Ohio's Eighth Congressional District in 1990, a district that remains solidly urban, blue-collar and overwhelmingly white. The district comprises the suburbs of Cincinnati and Dayton.

Throughout his 20 years in Washington, he has been one of the party's top fundraisers. His savvy dealing with the business community has led to allegations that he is unduly close to Washington lobbyists, who have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his various campaigns.

Mr Boehner has not been shy to share the wealth with his fellow party members. In 1996, he even dispersed cheques from a tobacco-affiliated political action committee on the floor of the House of Representatives, bringing severe criticism from Democrats.

But he has also played a prominent part in exposing financial malpractice in Congress. A key member in the Gang of Seven, a group of Republican congressmen elected to office in 1990, Mr Boehner helped to expose two widely publicised scandals. The first, the so-called House banking scandal, proved that congressmen from both sides of the aisle were consistently over-drawing their House bank accounts, in some cases for as long as eight months.

Additionally, the Gang of Seven brought to light rampant corruption within the Congressional Post Office that resulted in the conviction of the Congressional Postmaster, and the representatives Joe Kolter and Dan Rostenkowski.

Mr Boehner was a staunch supporter of George W Bush and has maintained his commitment to Bush-era policies, such as the troop surge in Iraq.

After Mr Obama scaled back US troops in Iraq, Mr Boehner was scathing about "leaders who opposed, criticised and fought tooth and nail to stop the surge strategy [and] now proudly claim credit for the results".

But it is on domestic policy that Mr Boehner has really fought the Obama administration. His opposition was especially pronounced on Mr Obama's economic policies and the healthcare package, and he has urged the president to fire his economic team and end the administration's "job-killing policies".

Mr Boehner has pledged to repeal the Obama administration's healthcare package, which he maintains is yet another "job-killing policy".

The question that faces the soon-to-be speaker of the House is to what extent he will maintain his anti-White House stance and risk paralysing government. In the weeks leading up to polling, Mr Boehner was adamant that "this is not a time for compromise".

But Mr Boehner will assume leadership of a legislative body that is not only divided along party lines, but also shifting towards ideological extremes. This is especially true on the right, where victorious Tea Party candidates are a force that even Mr Boehner, an establishment Republican, will have to contend with.

Ever the careful politician, Mr Boehner hedged his bets with the insurgent Tea Party movement during the campaign by dispersing $320,000 (Dh1.17 million) of his war chest to the movement's candidates, some of whom had yet to officially affiliate themselves with the Republican Party when they received the funds.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Boehner's, and to some extent, the Republican Party's, backing of Tea Party candidates will play out in his favour. While Mr Boehner managed to establish himself in contrast to institutional Washington elites throughout the campaign, he is part of the very establishment that the Tea Party has railed against.