John Boehner's First Day


Updated 4:27 p.m.

The deal is done: With a wave of his huge wooden gavel, John Boehner took control of the House of Representatives.

The gavel is an outsized block of wood that looks like the sawed-off top of a sledgehammer, far bigger than the medium-sized one Boehner handed to Pelosi four years ago. Boehner's gavel was made by one of his constituents in western Ohio and given to the new speaker as a gift. The symbol of Boehner's new power fits well with his straightforward, old-boy demeanor, a facet of his persona that the outgoing speaker praised as she introduced him.

The House of Representatives was abuzz today, sort of like the first day of high school. Members patted shoulders and shook hands congenially; little kids scurried around behind their lawmaker parents, outside the House chamber and in it. After a quorum call around noon, members all filed in to sit or stand less in reverence than in friendly anticipation, waiting for power to change hands officially.

Lawmakers milled about the floor, talking to one another, finding seats in short supply as members' children (toddlers and teenagers alike, sitting in chairs and laps) accompanied them to see their parents sworn in. Members stood behind the last row of seats, leaning on the banister, spilling into the aisles.

A cheer erupted as Boehner and Pelosi stepped up to the dais in the front of the room. As Pelosi began her speech, a little girl in the visitor's gallery started to cry.

"It is a high honor to welcome all the members of Congress and their families to the House of Representatives," Pelosi said. And with a cheer, the ceremony began.

Pelosi spoke about bipartisanship and a "shared commitment to the way forward" but eventually steered into more controversial territory, listing the achievements of the Democratic Congress, to Democratic clapping and Republican silence, a la a State of the Union address.

"Patients can no longer be thrown off their insurance," Pelosi declared. "Taxpayers will be saved $1.3 trillion." She mentioned the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the recent repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And for a few minutes, as Democrats clapped and Republicans shot stony glances at their former tormentor, congeniality was sucked out of the room.

Pelosi saved some kind words for Boehner, calling him "a man of conviction, a public servant," who has "earned the confidence of his conference." She thanked her colleagues for making her the first woman speaker, which everyone, Democrat and Republican alike, applauded.

And then the enormous gavel was handed over. "It's larger than most gavels here, but [it's] the gavel of choice for Speaker Boehner." The chamber laughed.


Boehner took the gavel from Pelosi with a hug, looking ready to wield this immense wooden thing. Republicans whistled and cheered; Democrats stood to clap along with them. Bipartisanship was back, if only for a minute or two. Boehner took the gavel in both hands, twisting it slightly, feeling its weight, and promptly teared up—a signature move of his—wiping his nose with a handkerchief as the Republican whooping got even louder. When he banged it, grins widened on all the Republican faces, seated in the left half of the room.

As Boehner stepped up to the podium and began speaking, another child started crying. That was something of a theme for the day.

"We gather here today at a time of great challenges. Nearly one in ten of our neighbors are looking for work. Health-care costs are still rising for families and small businesses. Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy. Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress," Boehner said. "No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions."

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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