“I leave here with no regrets, no burdens,” Boehner said. “If anything, I leave as I started—just a regular guy humbled by the chance to do a big job. That’s what I’m most proud of—that I’m still just me.” How well he did that big job will remain a matter of debate. Democrats believed he too often lacked the backbone to confront the most recalcitrant in his party; conservatives howled that he shut them out and took the path of least resistance to cut mediocre—or worse—deals with the White House.
When Boehner resigned, the GOP turned to Ryan, a wonky tax writer who had been a rising star in the party long before Mitt Romney picked him as his running mate in 2012. He ran eagerly for vice president but reluctantly for speaker. And although Ryan agreed to serve only after the party came begging, even he had to make promises to secure the support of the same conservatives who tormented Boehner.
Ryan assured the right he’d run the House differently, promising to shake up the structure of committees and give rank-and-file members a stronger hand in writing legislation that makes it to the floor for a vote. On Wednesday, the Republican conference formally nominated him in a private vote, and on Thursday the House ratified Ryan’s selection in a spectacle unique in American politics—a long, slow reading of each name of the chamber’s 435 representatives, who then rose to shout the name of their chosen candidate.
Ryan needed a majority of the chamber, and by the time the vote began, the only drama was in guessing how many of the 247 Republicans would cast their support elsewhere. All but three Democrats voted for Nancy Pelosi, the veteran party leader. (General Colin Powell got one vote, as did Representative John Lewis, the civil-rights icon, and Representative Jim Cooper, a Tennessee centrist.) The only other Republican to receive votes was Webster, the former speaker of the Florida House, who had initially won an endorsement from the renegade House Freedom Caucus. In the end, Ryan lost only nine Republicans—fewer defections than Boehner suffered each of his last two elections.
The final vote—the 236th for Ryan—came from Boehner himself, who announced Ryan's election and waited for him in the speaker’s chair. “Don’t cry!” the smiling Wisconsinite told him as the two friends embraced. It was, as everyone in the House knew, a fruitless request. After struggling to hold back his emotions for more than an hour, Boehner wept openly as he walked to the back of the chamber, waving to acknowledge a bipartisan ovation that lasted several minutes.
“John Boehner, you are the personification of the American dream,” Pelosi told him as she prepared to hand the speaker’s gavel to Ryan. When he finally got to speak, Ryan paid his own tribute to Boehner. The House applauded again, and Boehner, standing near the back, waved a white handkerchief that he used to wipe away his tears. He gave Ryan an exaggerated salute, turned around, and walked out of the chamber for the final time.