John Boehner Biography

U.S. Representative (1949–)
Former Republican congressman John Boehner was best known as the speaker of the House, holding the position from January 2011 to October 2015.


John Boehner was born on November 17, 1949, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Boehner rose to power as a Republican member of Congress in 1990, becoming one of the the youngest members of the House. Throughout his tenure, Boehner has held his ground as a staunch conservative, promoting small-government policies. He has been elected 12 times and became speaker of the House of Representatives in January 2011. As speaker, Boehner has opposed many stances made by President Barack Obama, including the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In late September 2015, Boehner announced that he would be resigning from Congress at the end of October. 

Early Life and Education

John Andrew Boehner was born on November 17, 1949, in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of 12 children born to Mary Anne (née Hall) and Earl Henry Boehner, John Boehner grew up in a blue-collar Catholic family in Southwest Ohio. He attended Moeller High School in Cincinnati, where he played on the school's football team.

After graduating from high school during the Vietnam War in 1968, Boehner enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Because of a bad back, he was honorably discharged after eight weeks. Boehner decided to attend college, though it took him seven years to graduate, working different jobs to pay his way through school.

It was during college that Boehner met his future wife, Debbie. He was working the night shift as a janitor at a chemical company where Debbie worked in customer service, and the two began dating. In September 1973, Debbie and John married. They went on to have two daughters, Tricia and Lindsey. The Boehners live in the Wetherington section of West Chester Township in Butler County, Ohio.

In 1977, Boehner graduated from Xavier University, earning a bachelor's degree in business administration. He was the first of his family to attend college, and after graduation he worked in the packaging and plastics industry before entering politics.

Election to Congress

In 1982, Boehner served on the board of trustees of Union Township in Butler County, Ohio. Three years later, Boehner was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. In 1990, Boehner ran for U.S. Congress against incumbent Buz Lukens, who was in the midst of a scandal about paying an underage girl for sex. Boehner won the election.

As one of the House's youngest members, Boehner was a part of the "Gang of Seven," a group of freshmen Republicans who brought attention to corruption in Congress. By exposing scandals like the 1992 House Banking scandal, the Gang of Seven helped Republicans gain control of Congress in the 1994 elections—and Boehner became a rising Republican star.

Boehner made a name for himself in Congress as an ardent social conservative and as a champion of pro-business and small-government policies. In 1996, Boehner helped pass the Freedom to Farm Act, and in 2001 he championed the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. In 2006, he led the drafting of the Pension Protection Act, the most sweeping pension reform in three decades. During the midst of the economic recession that struck in late 2008, Boehner voted to bail out floundering financial institutions with the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP. Although he voted for the bill to head off an economic collapse, he later wrote in a USA Today op-ed that he regretted voting for the bill.

Speaker of the House

In January 2011, John Boehner became the speaker of the House, a body dominated by Republicans after their sweep in the 2010 midterm election. Notably, he became the first speaker from Ohio since 1931.

As speaker, Boehner has led the Republican opposition to many of President Obama's policies, including the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Affordable Care Act and withdrawing troops from Iraq. He has continually questioned Obama's leadership in foreign affairs, the national debt and immigration policy. In July 2011, Boehner was at the center of attempts to end the debt crisis, drafting the Republican "Boehner plan" to counter Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan. In the end, Boehner and Obama's work toward their "grand bargain" on the budget was for naught, as talks fell apart.

Boehner made headlines in early 2013 when he voted for a bipartisan bill (dissenting from fellow Republicans House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy) aimed at preventing the looming fiscal-cliff crisis. Tense negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over spending cuts and tax increases had escalated into a bitter political battle. And with the so-called fiscal cliff approaching, Boehner chastised President Obama: "I hope the president will get serious soon about providing and working with us on a balanced approach." The bill, also passed by the House that same day (January 1, 2012), aimed to, among other provisions, reduce the national debt by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans—individuals earning more than $400,000 per year and couples earning more than $450,000.

In October 2013, the U.S. government shut down due to Congress' inability to compromise on a national spending deal. With the initiation of universal health care, better known as Obamacare, the House refused to pass a bill that would not include anti-Obamacare amendments. Although Obamacare was still put into action, the shutdown of the government was used as a way to bargain for an amended spending bill. In response to Obama's declaration that negotiations for the bill won't commence until the debt ceiling is lifted and the threat of the government shutdown is removed, Boehner said that agreeing to those terms would mean the "unconditional surrender by Republicans."

Lawsuit Against Obama

The rivalry between Obama and Boehner that escalated in the summer of 2011 came to a head in the summer of 2014, when Boehner announced he would sue the president for abuse of powers. Citing Obama's numerous executive orders, unauthorized changes to federal law (specifically to the law that emerged from the Affordable Care Act) and lax immigration policy. After the House voted on July 30, 2014, to allow the suit to proceed, Boehner filed the action in November of that year.

While the Republican Congress was able to increase its majority in the House as the result of 2014 elections, Boehner faced opposition within his own party to be reelected as speaker. He was able to retain his post even with significant votes against him and soon went on to oppose Obama's nuclear treatise with Iran. Boehner's strategies on this included inviting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress with his staunch denouncement of the plan. A devout Catholic, the speaker was also responsible for inviting Pope Francis to talk before a joint session of Congress in late September 2015.  


Criticism of Boehner had focused on his ties to lobbyists, especially in the tobacco and banking industries. Second in line to the presidency, behind the vice president, John Boehner also faced huge opposition from staunchly right-wing members of his party and was caught in a political maelstrom over a call to defund Planned Parenthood, with a governmental shutdown on the horizon. On September 25, 2015, Boehner announced that he would not only be resigning as speaker but leaving Congress at the end of October.

“It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution," Boehner said in his statement, though his original plan was to make a resignation announcement later in the year on his birthday. Turmoil continued to reign after Boehner's decision. Kevin McCarthy, his presumed successor, announced in early October that he would not seek the speaker position due to limited support from a fractious party. Paul Ryan was elected to the position on October 29, with Boehner giving an emotional farewell speech before departing for his home state.

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