'American Dream': John Boehner Set to Take House Helm

The fiery GOP veteran went from humble childhood to House speaker-to-be.

November 2, 2010, 10:36 PM

Nov. 3, 2010 — -- Rep. John Boehner, likely the next speaker of the House of Representatives, sounds ready to get to work in his new role.

"This is a time to roll up our sleeves," a tearful Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday night during his victory speech in Washington, D.C., "to look forward with determination and to take the first steps toward building a better future for our kids and grandkids."

A 20-year veteran of the House and the fiery leader of the House Republicans for the last four years, Boehner has made a name for himself as one of the most high-profile and spirited rhetorical opponents of outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Obama during the last two years.

"Hell no, you can't!" he said on the House floor as the health care bill was passing.

Boehner is a political survivor who has said that when he falls down, he smiles and works harder. If elected speaker, he will have his work cut out for him as he faces a new caucus of Republicans that includes political novices and Tea Party favorites.

On Tuesday night, he said that his work ethic is a result of his humble beginnings.

"I hold these values dear because I lived them," he told supporters.

Born John Andrew Boehner in 1949, he was one of 12 brothers and sisters in Reading, Ohio.

"We always had enough people to play a baseball game," said Boehner's brother Bob Boehner.

The family lived in a two-bedroom house in Cincinnati. Boehner's parents, Earl and Maryann Boehner, slept on a pull-out couch.

"You had to learn how to compromise because you only had one bathroom," Bob Boehner said.

'That's Not John Boehner'

When he was 8 years old, Boehner started working in the family bar. His sister, Linda Meineke, still works there.

"They think he's a rich guy who's got this tan, goes into tanning beds, plays golf all the time, goes to the country club," she said. "That's not John Boehner."

The first person in his family to attend college, he worked his way through night school as a janitor. He met his wife of 35 years, Debbie, after emptying her trash bin. The couple has two adult daughters.

"I've spent my whole life chasing the American dream," he said Tuesday night. "I put myself through school working every rotten job there was and every shift I could find."

After his graduation, Boehner worked as a salesman at a small plastics company and eventually became president.

"I poured my heart and soul into a small business," he told supporters Tuesday night. "When I saw how out of touch Washington had become with the core values of this great nation, I put my name forward and ran for office."

He was elected to Congress in 1990 and has been the House minority leader since 2007. He was a member of the "Gang of Seven," a group of freshmen GOP lawmakers who launched an ethics crusade against House veterans accused of various abuses.

Boehner also was a lieutenant in Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution, helping to craft the Contract With America.

Today, Boehner welcomed the wave of new GOP members elected by voters to change the way Washington does business.

"What unites us as Republicans will be the agenda of the American people," he said. "They want us to cut spending and focus on creating jobs in America. I don't see any problems incorporating members of the Tea Party along with our party in a quest that's really the same."

ABC News' Devin Dwyer contributed to this article.

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