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All the times John Boehner cried

‘On the House’ brings back the waterworks

If there’s one thing we knew about former Speaker John Boehner, it’s that he likes to cry.

Like, a lot. Tears flowed like a river through his political career in Washington, softening his gruff persona and sweeping up anyone in his path. 

He cried with presidents. He cried in front of the pope. Just this week, while promoting his new book, he teared up during an interview with veteran USA Today journalist Susan Page. The trigger? A golf commercial.

Forget the glasses of red wine, the packs of Camels, the bag of golf clubs. Boehner’s real weapon and indulgence of choice was a box of tissues, wielded either strategically or at random, it was never easy to tell.

So, it’s no surprise to find that his nostalgia-soaked memoir, “On the House,” is also wet with tears. The only strange part is how little he does with them.

The book is peak Boehner, complete with a curated list of “Boehnerisms” at the end (“If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle”) and a slew of contradictions. The same man who sobs into his handkerchief belongs to a men-only golf club and drives around the country on a “no girls allowed” bus.

Boehner tears up in 2015 as he talks about resigning his position as speaker and leaving Congress. (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)

Politics needs more empathy, not less. But for every moment of emotion, there’s a show of bravado not far behind — a pissing match, a chest-thumping, a bull scrotum he kept in a clear box on the conference table.

“I love being retired,” Boehner writes. “I’m not in the middle of it anymore.” Still, for a few months leading up to this book release, the Ohio Republican had his bully pulpit back again.

This is what he did with it — revisit all the misty-eyed moments while insisting he would never engage in self-pity, rewrite history or fall victim to nostalgia.

“The last thing I want this book to sound like is some old guy railing at ‘these kids today,’” he writes, before doing just that. 

Instead, he wants to share “wisdom and lessons and hopefully good humor” — and don’t forget the waterworks. 

Here are some of the highlights. He cried while … 

Golfing with his buddy Buzz and President Gerald Ford

“Ford had never met Buzz, who was just a regular guy from Ohio and was in awe of all the big-name celebrities all around. About halfway through the course, out of nowhere, Ford said, ‘Hey Buzz, come over here and read this putt for me.’ And without batting an eye, up stepped Buzz. He gave Ford his two cents, and the former president sank the putt. … I got a little choked up at the idea of me and my buddy being lucky enough to be yukking it up with a former president, who treated us like we’d all been friends for years.”

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Getting a phone call from his high school coach

“On the other end of the line was Coach Faust, who gave me a classic pep talk from our days on the field together — about stepping up when the team needs you, keeping your head in the game. I just stood there, listening to this great man, standing in the cold on the sidewalk in front of Pete’s Diner, crying my eyes out. I’ve never gotten a phone call from God (at least not yet), but that was about as close as I’ll ever get. And later that morning, my colleagues chose me as their majority leader.” 

Talking about No Child Left Behind with President George W. Bush

“I started to see tears come to his eyes. And me, I’m always an easy target when that happens. Tears form in my eyes too. In front of all of his staff and Secret Service and all the spectators who showed up for the event, the president gave me a big bear hug. Then he got into his limo and left. The moment was so moving that I didn’t realize for a few minutes that I was now completely alone. The event was over. I didn’t have any staff with me. I hadn’t driven myself. I was just standing there in the parking lot, and I had to get back to the Capitol to go back to work. So I ended up having to weave through the crowd to the street and hail a cab.”

Boehner wipes away tears during at a ceremony in the Capitol rotunda to present golfing legend Arnold Palmer the Congressional Gold Medal. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Getting sworn in as speaker

“So I was standing up there with this gigantic gavel and I was supposed to make a speech, but there, sitting in the front row, I caught sight of my three best buddies — Richard Burr, Saxby Chambliss, and Tom Latham — all sitting together. We’d been friends since our early days in Congress, and there they were, Burr and Chambliss having come over from the Senate to wish me well. That was it. The waterworks opened. I had to go through a lot of tissues that day.”

Sitting for a ‘60 Minutes’ interview

“It didn’t matter that I’d fought this whole idea earlier. I was in it now, and I had to play it through to the end. And besides, Lesley [Stahl] was awfully nice. They filmed us inside the church, talking about my childhood. She got me crying, and I got her crying too — although her tears never made it onto the air, and of course mine did.”

Talking with the Estonian prime minister

“A young, passionate politician, he spoke forcefully about how much American support meant to him and to the people of his country. This Estonian was a more patriotic American than a lot of native-born Americans I’ve met. Before he was through, I had to get out my handkerchief. His gratitude and love for a country thousands of miles away from his own brought me to tears.”

Watching the sunset

“I couldn’t cut my own grass in Florida even if I wanted to because, well, we don’t have a yard. But we do have a deck, and a view down to the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. We try to watch the sunset out there as often as we can. It’s truly amazing. We watch the sun as it moves across the sky from December 21 to June 21. Every night in between it’s a whole new show. Sometimes it reflects off the clouds or off the water. It’s hard to think of a better way to experience the beauty of God’s creation. It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye.”

Boehner holds up a box of tissues while speaking in the House chamber before Rep. Paul Ryan is voted in as the new speaker. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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