It could qualify as the first official Washington gathering of the Friends of John Boehner.
Make that Friends of Speaker John Boehner.
After all, the scores of Ohioans who jammed the ornate, soaring Caucus Room at the Cannon House Office Building on Wednesday to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and watch their local guy ascend to the speaker’s chair – his chin quivering, to the utter delight of those gathered – have long been FOJs.
Everybody was a neighbor. A golfing buddy. The first to jump on his bandwagon. Someone who “knew him when.”
More than one had placed a good-natured bet on when their buddy, a reliable crier, would break out a hanky.
And when Boehner began his first speech as speaker with, “It’s still just me,” quiet murmurs and nods rippled among this posse, many of whom had helped fill four buses Tuesday for the 10-hour ride to the nation’s capital for the pomp and parties.
Cheers went up when the television screens positioned around the room showed Boehner’s extensive extended family in the gallery of the House. All but one of his 11 siblings were there; no scandal – the other had restaurants to run in Georgia after a holiday visit to Ohio.
“He’s pretty much a common man,” said Tom O’Brien of West Chester, Ohio, the town Boehner, now in his 11th term in Congress, and his wife, Debbie, call home when not in Washington.
Except that now he’s second in line to the presidency.
And, as expected, his rooting section expressed high hopes for their guy, who faces the task of corralling a big new House majority and influx of members who rode Tea Party fervor to victory in their home districts.
“John is a very good diplomat in a world of politicians,” said Steve Schramm, who with his wife, Loren, owns a construction business in Cincinnati. “He’s likable, but has conviction.”
“The Tea Party tends to get cast as radical,” Schramm said. “We’re members, and I’m not radical at all – we just want a small government, and for government to get out of my way.”
And about that continuing Tea Party-fueled debate over whether Congress should raise the nation’s debt ceiling in coming months?
“We don’t want any more debt, but we have no choice now,” said Philip Weeda, who runs a family-owned food distribution business in Monroe, Ohio. “Once that’s done, we move forward,” he said, referring to lifting the debt ceiling.
“The new Tea Party people will have to realize it’s not all about campaigning,” Weeda said.
That was a common sentiment throughout the hall, where Boehner’s Buckeye supporters, some still riding high from Ohio State University’s football victory Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl, predicted that the new speaker would build consensus and compromise with Democrats and factions of his own party.
Well, maybe not with the outgoing speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who takes on the new position as House minority leader.
“I do not want his report card to say ‘plays well with others,’” said retired tree farmer Katy Kern, who was wearing sparkly tea-pot earrings. “If he’s in the sandbox with Nancy, I want him to pull her pigtails.”
When Pelosi appeared on screen to deliver her valedictory and swear-in Boehner, there were plenty of stadium-style boos – and raucous laughter when the television cameras caught the new speaker looking a bit dyspeptic listening to his predecessor.
But the biggest guffaw came when Boehner finally did pull out a hanky and dabbed his eyes after Pelosi introduced his wife, seated in the gallery.
You can tell the tears are coming, Schramm said with an affectionate smile, when John Boehner’s chin starts quivering.
And certainly on Wednesday few could begrudge the guy with the Horatio Alger story a few tears, or his supporters a day of expectation and celebration.