The chin started trembling partway down the center aisle as the applause rose to a roar. John Boehner, the emotional Ohioan about to become the House’s new speaker, took his time, shaking hands with colleagues and their children on his way to the rostrum. At its foot, the hankie came out.
“It’s still just me,” he told the House after departing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, dry-eyed, handed Boehner his outsized “gavel of choice.”
It is known to bug Boehner that he can’t keep it together at big moments, but apparently it runs in the family. At the moment Pelosi transferred power to her successor, at least six hankies had been deployed by Boehner’s proudly weeping family members watching from the gallery overhead.
By any measure, Wednesday was a dramatic time for the Boehners, Congress and a recession-weary nation that had voted two months earlier to break the Democrats’ grip on Washington power. In the 112th Congress, Democrats still hold the majority of the Senate and President Barack Obama owns the veto pen. The House, though, will be run by Boehner and a Republican caucus determined to undo much of the Democrats’ work — starting with Obama’s signature health care overhaul.
For Wednesday at least, the atmosphere inside the House was as much about institutional change as the political kind.
Democrats gave Boehner a standing ovation when he entered, and they started the applause later when Pelosi, in her farewell address, noted that the new speaker had earned everyone’s respect.