House Minority Leader John Boehner has a reputation among Washington insiders for his hard-partying ways, but public suggestions that Boehner might have a drinking problems have been a rarity. That's what makes MSNBC host Joe Scarborough's remarks about the Ohio Republican's bar-hopping habits worthy of notice.
"I hear it on the Hill, I'm sure you hear it on the Hill all the time, it's not reported," Scarborough told a guest from Politico on Wednesday's Morning Joe. "But so many Republicans tell me that this is a guy that is not the hardest worker in the world."
"After five o'clock, six o'clock at night he's disengaged -- at best," Scarborough continued. "You can see him around town. He does not have, let's say, the work hours of Newt Gingrich. ... Every Republican I talk to says that John Boehner, by five or six at night, you can see him at bars."
A Boehner spokesman quickly denied Scarborough's claims in an email to Politico, writing that "Boehner grew up with 11 brothers and sisters and his dad owned a bar, but the only time heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Ëœaround townÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ these days is to raise money for our House Republican team."
Depictions of Boehner as a hard partier have been current for many years. When he was chosen House minority leader in 2006, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "Boehner is famous for the lavish parties he throws, including an annual 'Boehner Beach Party' fundraiser. At the GOP's 2004 convention in New York, Boehner hosted a party that raged all four nights of the convention at Tunnel, a West Side nightclub."
In 2007, Politico took a more pointed dig, in an item headlined "Boehner cries again, getting a rep as a 'weeper,'" which pointed out, "This is getting to be something of a habit for the Ohio Republican. One of his GOP colleagues noted that Boehner cries more often later in the day. Go figure, eh."
Stories about hard-drinking politicians are no rarity, of course. In 2000, CNN offered a lengthy summary of Congressional problems with alcohol, ranging from Gerald Ford to Ted Kennedy. And in 1990, the Washington Post presented a detailed account of Kennedy's drinking binges, including an anecdote about Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) seeking Kennedy out in the Capitol to invite him to address a group of Mormon missionaries and finding him in company with Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and "neither ... feeling any pain."
The real question may be why Scarborough -- a former Republican member of Congress who served with Boehner in the late 90's -- chose to let the cat out of the bag at this particular time. Boehner has recently been providing an unusual amount of fodder for Democratic campaign ads, however, ranging from his description of financial regulation reform as "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon" to his suggestion that the Social Security retirement age should be raised to 70.
Whatever Scarborough's motivation, his remarks seem certain to dredge up the allegations about Boehner's drinking habits that have circulated for years under the radar. In 2008, for example, one enterprising blogger started up a "John Boehner Booze Watch" blog which alleged, "Part of BoehnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s prideful jackass-ism stems from his incessant thirst for the booze. ... The manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s boozing skills are that of legend. ... At the [2008 Republican National] Convention, Boehner gave two awkward, drunken speeches that were embarrassing, somewhat uncomfortable, and confusing at best for those in attendance. The man could not pronounce a name if his life depended on it."
Last fall, another blog even offered an Onion-style parody describing how "Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner gave an impassioned speech on Wednesday dismissing as false persistent rumors that he is a secret alcoholic. 'I have an illness that precisely mimics the effects of alcoholism,' said the Republican. ... 'This rare illness makes innocent sufferers appear that they are alcoholics when in fact they are not.'"
Photo of John Boehner visiting Tipp CityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Hinders Sports Bar in March 2010 from Tipp News Daily
This video is from MSNBC, broadcast June 30, 2010.