AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
That squabble over aid related to Hurricane Sandy comes at a critical time for House Speaker John Boehner. Tomorrow, Congress is sworn in on Capitol Hill. And in the House, majority Republicans will decide if Boehner keeps his post.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The speaker has had a rough ride the past two years. For example, last night, when the House voted to approve the compromise deal to avert the fiscal cliff, more than 60 percent of Republicans voted against it. And that included top lieutenants of speaker Boehner's, such as majority whip Kevin McCarthy, the man whose main job is to round up votes.
CORNISH: Here to talk about speaker Boehner's two years as leader and his chances of keeping the gavel is Manu Raju, senior congressional correspondent for Politico. Manu, welcome.
MANU RAJU: Hey, great to be here.
CORNISH: So tell us about the last couple of days. We saw Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accuse speaker Boehner of running, quote, "a dictatorship" in the House. How tense is it for Speaker Boehner and how has he react to all this?
RAJU: It's a very tense. I mean this has been a rough ride. And, as you mentioned, Audie, that Harry Reid did accuse him of being more concerned about the speaker gavel that cutting a fiscal deal. And that led to some profanity at the White House. In fact, Speaker Boehner used a profane word to cuss out Harry Reid when he saw him at the White House. So it's been a very, very rough ride for him. And he hopes to steady the ship come the new Congress.
CORNISH: It doesn't sound really like a dictatorship. And I'm wondering, when John Boehner became Speaker Boehner, back in 2010, how they vowed to do things differently? How did he want to lead?
RAJU: Well, he didn't want to lead at the top way in which Nancy Pelosi - the House Democrat from California, who was a speaker at the time - how she was known to rule the House really with an iron fist. Whereas Speaker Boehner really wanted to govern from the bottom-up and try to be more, you know, listen to his big band of freshmen lawmakers who rode on this Tea Party wave, who said that, you know, they wanted to change the way Washington worked.
And he was with them on it. He was with them on cutting spending and he had successes in doing that in the first fight over the government that nearly shut down the government back in 2011.
But what we saw that time and again that his rebellious conference was very hard for him to corral. And there were times in which he had to cut a deal with a Democratic president at a Democratic Senate. It was hard to keep those folks in line, and this has become so much more pronounced as the year moved along. And it culminated all in the fiscal cliff battle, what we saw on the House floor just yesterday.
CORNISH: Within the caucus, what do his defenders say? I mean, how are they sort of selling this, his leadership to other Republicans in the House?
RAJU: Well, they would say that they have had success this Congress. They would say that the speaker has really change the debate over cutting spending - this is something that really was ignored in previous speakerships - and to focus on the reducing of the size of the government.
But look, he only has one chamber. The Republicans are only in control of the House. And he has done what he can, given the situation at hand and they think they have had some success. And they'll say, look, we haven't done everything we wanted but, you know, I listened to your concerns and I make the case is vigorous as we can. And we win some and we don't win some.
You know, the speaker is a very affable guy. People like him personally. And I think that goes a long way because, you know, as you know, Audie, this is an institution that's designed and runs on relationships. And I think he's got a lot of really good ones and that really puts him in a secure spot with a lot of his members.
CORNISH: Manu, thank you so much for speaking with us.
CORNISH: Manu Raju is senior congressional correspondent for Politico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.