Boehner is making waves, and big bucks, with paid speeches

WASHINGTON — Former speaker John Boehner is still grabbing headlines more than a year after leaving office — and making big bucks along the way by offering his blunt take on the Trump presidency and his one-time Republican colleagues in Congress.

The former West Chester congressman and House GOP chief has given at least eight paid speeches since resigning from Congress at the end of 2015 — most recently telling an audience of tax consultants that Trump’s record so far on domestic issues has been a “complete disaster.”

It’s not clear how much Boehner earns for such sessions, but one GOP strategist estimated the one-time House speaker could snag a fee of at least $15,000 per speech and possibly much more, depending on the sponsor and the location.

Boehner’s bookings are handled by a high-profile New York firm, the Harry Walker Agency, which also represents former president Bill Clinton, ex-vice president Dick Cheney, and a bevy of other political and cultural celebrities. The head of that agency did not return a message seeking comment, and several of the groups that have hired Boehner declined to say how much they paid him, citing private contractual agreements.

The Walker firm includes a prominent pitch for Boehner on its website, noting that he’s a longtime friend of President Trump’s and that as House speaker, he conferred regularly with everyone from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

For five years, Boehner was “two heartbeats away from the presidency,” the agency’s blurb notes. “Boehner was in the thick of it all,” the website says, adding that no one “has a better understanding than John Boehner of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead” for the Trump administration and the GOP-controlled Congress.

The speeches are not Boehner’s only post-Congress source of income. He is also serving as a “strategic adviser” at Squire Patton Boggs, a powerful Washington lobbying firm that has a major presence in Cincinnati. And he’s serving on several corporate boards, including tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc.

But it’s his paid remarks that have kept Boehner in the news—and probably given some his former Republican allies heartburn. Take, for example, his assessment of GOP efforts to repeal-and-replace Obamacare.

“It’s not going to happen,” Boehner said at a February health care conference in Florida. “Republicans never ever agree on health care.”

Boehner predicted congressional Republicans would instead leave the framework of Obamacare in place and fix the law, instead of scrapping it. He even said he’d “started laughing” when he heard his former congressional colleagues promise a quick repeal-and-replace bill.

“You can speak a little more candidly and not necessarily toe the line” after leaving public office, said Rick Tyler, the Republican consultant and a former top adviser to ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “It can be freeing.”

Tyler said he had no inside information on how much Boehner was earning for his speeches. But he estimated, based on his experience helping Gingrich market himself after the Georgia Republican left the House, that Boehner could make at least $15,000 per speech and as much as $50,000.

Tyler said that Boehner’s recent remarks were probably putting his successor, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, in an awkward spot. Most recently, Boehner called a Ryan-backed proposal to impose a border tax on imports “deader than a doornail” and dismissed the GOP leadership’s push for tax reform as nothing but “happy talk.”

“It’s interesting to me that rather than protecting the ruse ... he’s giving up the ghost and making it harder for Ryan,” Tyler said of Boehner.

While in Congress, Boehner was known as relatively candid for a political leader — a trait that sometimes got him in hot water with his own GOP colleagues. But he was still careful about not dissing his own party’s legislative agenda.

When he was earning a congressional salary, for example, Boehner did not talk about the GOP rift on health care, instead promising Republicans would never let up until they had repealed the 2010 health care law “in its entirety.”

“There’s only one way to truly fix Obamacare,” Boehner said in 2012, “and that’s by fully repealing it.”

Now, he says, that's unlikely. And he's right, so far, as the Republican Obamacare replacement bill has stalled in the Senate.

This week, Boehner tried to walk back his assessment that Trump’s tenure so far had been a “complete disaster,” aside from some progress on the foreign policy front. He first made that remark at a May 25 conference hosted by KPMG, a powerful global accounting firm.

At that Houston gathering, which focused on global energy issues, Boehner said Trump “did what he could” to push a healthcare bill through Congress.

But “everything else he’s done has been a complete disaster,” the Ohio Republican added. “He’s still learning how to be president.”

In another paid speech on Wednesday — this time to a group of insurance agents and brokers in Colorado Springs — Boehner said the press had gotten “carried away” with its interpretation of his take on Trump and tried to backtrack.

“I did not say that the president’s policies were a disaster. I did not say that the president’s agenda was a disaster,” Boehner told his audience, according to a clip on Politico. “What I was referring to was the execution of the president’s agenda and the president’s policies.”

He said Trump and his White House team have made “a number of missteps, unforced errors” and he doubted the president would disagree with him on that.

Dave Schnittger, who serves as Boehner’s spokesman and works with him at a major law-and-lobbying firm, referred questions about Boehner’s speeches to the Walker agency. Asked about his frank political assessments, Schnittger said that’s just Boehner being himself.

“He has always tended to speak his mind,” Schnittger said.

 

Cincinnati Enquirer


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