WASHINGTON – In the Republican version of the "comeback kid," Rep. John Boehner not only returned to the GOP leadership on Thursday, he seized the second most powerful job in the House from a man he clashed with in recent years.
The eight-term Ohio lawmaker brings a genial style but some lobbying baggage to the post of majority leader, a critical job in a time when influence-peddling scandals are bearing down on Washington and threaten to break the Republican grip on Congress.
Boehner rose to fame as a member of the "Gang of Seven," the group of upstart Republicans who assailed the excesses of the majority Democrats amid reports of bounced checks at the House bank.
Once in power, similar GOP foibles were on display. Boehner was forced to apologize in the mid-1990s for distributing checks from tobacco companies to his colleagues on the House floor.
He has been scrutinized recently for accepting donations, parties and trips from Sallie Mae, the nation's largest provider of student loans, as it lobbied the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which Boehner chairs.
Boehner rose to No. 4 in the House leadership but was penalized for election losses in 1998 and lost his leadership post. He frequently clashed with then Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, which contributed to his fall from the top party ranks.
On Thursday, Republicans voted to make him the permanent replacement for DeLay, bypassing caretaker Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
"He understood when he had to go back to the woodshed for a while and he just did his work and established himself," said Curt Steiner, a former chief of staff to one-time Ohio Gov. George Voinovich. "He took the setback that he had very well and didn't pout. He just understood what that was all about and ... did a good job as chairman, did a good job to the point where people wanted him as leader."
Distinctive for his perpetual tan and cigarette in hand, Boehner has spread the GOP financial success on his colleagues. His political action committee, The Freedom Project, has given nearly $3 million to Republican candidates since 1996.
In the last election cycle, the PAC contributed $718,630 to 103 Republican candidates for the House and eight Senate candidates as well as $30,000 to the Republican campaign committee and $10,000 to state parties.
As chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, he was a key player in passage of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, and Bush in 2002 traveled to Boehner's district on Ohio's western border with Indiana to sign that education measure into law.
Boehner, 56, was born in Cincinnati to a family of 12 children, and ran a successful plastics and packaging company before winning local and state elections in the 1980s and winning his seat in Congress in 1990.