Boehner was born in Reading, Ohio, the son of Mary Anne (née Hall; 1926–1998) and Earl Henry Boehner (1925–1990), the second of twelve children. His Father was of German descent and his mother had German and Irish ancestry. He grew up in modest circumstances, having shared one bathroom with his eleven siblings in a two-bedroom house in Cincinnati. He started working at his family's bar at age 8, a Business founded by their grandfather Andy Boehner in 1938. He has lived in Southwest Ohio his entire life.
Boehner attended Cincinnati's Moeller High School and was a linebacker on the school's football team, where he was coached by Future Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust. Graduating from Moeller in 1968, when United States involvement in the Vietnam War was at its peak, Boehner enlisted in the United States Navy but was honorably discharged after eight weeks because of a bad back. He earned his B.A. in Business administration from Xavier University in 1977, becoming the first person in his family to attend college, taking seven years as he held several jobs to pay for his education.
Boehner and his wife Debbie were married in 1973, and live in the Wetherington section of West Chester Township. They have two daughters, Lindsay and Tricia.
From 1981 to 1984, Boehner served on the board of trustees of Union Township, Butler County, Ohio. He then served as an Ohio state representative from 1985 to 1990.
In 1990, Boehner ran against incumbent Congressman Buz Lukens, who was under fire for having a sexual relationship with a minor. In a three-way Republican primary that included Boehner, Lukens, and former Congressman Tom Kindness, Boehner won with 49 percent of the vote. He then handily beat his Democratic opponent, Greg Jolivette, in the November election. He was subsequently re-elected to Congress 12 times, each by a substantial margin.
During his freshman year, Boehner was a member of the Gang of Seven which was involved in bringing media attention to the House banking scandal. The group also investigated the Congressional Post Office, leading to the indictment of Congressman Dan Rostenkowski. Later, he, along with Newt Gingrich and several other Republican lawmakers, was one of the Engineers of the Contract with America in 1994 that politically helped Republicans during the 1994 congressional elections during which they won the majority in Congress for the first time in four decades.
In June 1995, Boehner distributed campaign contributions from tobacco industry lobbyists on the House floor as House members were weighing how to vote on tobacco subsidies. In a 1996 documentary by PBS called The People and the Power Game, Boehner said "They asked me to give out a half dozen checks quickly before we got to the end of the month and I complied. And I did it on the House floor, which I regret. I should not have done. It's not a violation of the House rules, but it's a practice that‘s gone on here for a long time that we're trying to stop and I know I'll never do it again." Boehner eventually led the effort to change House rules and prohibit campaign contributions from being distributed on the House floor.
In the summer of 1997 several House Republicans, who saw Speaker Newt Gingrich's public image as a liability, attempted to replace him as Speaker. The attempted "coup" began July 9 with a meeting between Republican conference chairman Boehner and Republican leadership chairman Bill Paxon of New York. According to their plan, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Boehner and Paxon were to present Gingrich with an ultimatum: resign, or be voted out. However, Armey balked at the proposal to make Paxon the new Speaker, and told his chief of staff to warn Gingrich about the coup.
After Republicans lost seats in the 1998 elections, the House Republican leadership underwent a reorganization. Armey and DeLay kept their positions, but Gingrich was replaced by Dennis Hastert, and Boehner lost his position as conference chairman to J.C. Watts.
Boehner and Senator Ted Kennedy authored the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which was signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. Boehner said that it was his "proudest achievement" in two decades of public Service. Boehner was friends with Kennedy, also a Roman Catholic, and every year they chaired fundraisers for cash-strapped Catholic schools.
Boehner opposes same-sex marriage, as evidenced by his vote for the Federal Marriage Amendment in both 2004 and 2006. In a letter to the Human Rights Campaign, Boehner stated, "I oppose any legislation that would provide special rights for homosexuals... Please be assured that I will continue to work to protect the idea of the traditional family as one of the fundamental tenets of western civilization."
Delay resigned as Majority Leader in 2005 after being indicted, and Boehner, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representative John Shadegg of Arizona, all sought to succeed Delay. Boehner campaigned as a reform candidate who wanted to reform the so-called "earmark" process and rein in government spending. In the second round of voting by the House Republican Conference, Boehner defeated Blunt with 122 to 109 votes. Blunt kept his previous position as Majority Whip, the No. 3 leadership position in the House. (There was some confusion on the first ballot for Majority Leader as the first count showed one more vote cast than Republicans present, due to a misunderstanding as to whether the rules allowed Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico to vote).
In the November 2006 election, Boehner defeated the Democratic Party candidate, U.S. Air Force veteran Mort Meier, 64% to 36%.
Boehner previously served as the House Minority Leader from 2007 until 2011, and House Majority Leader from 2006 until 2007. Boehner's almost nine years as the Republican Leader in the House (four years as Minority Leader and nearly five years as Speaker) was the longest consecutive tenure for a Republican Leader in the House since Bob Michel of Illinois served 14 years as House Minority Leader between 1981 and 1995. Boehner resigned from the House of Representatives in October 2015 due to opposition from within the Republican caucus.
In the November 2008 election, Boehner defeated Nicholas Von Stein, 68% to 32%.
As Republican House Leader, Boehner was a Democratic target for criticism of Republican views and political positions. In July 2010, President Barack Obama began singling out Boehner for criticism during his speeches. In one speech, Obama mentioned Boehner's name nine times and accused him of believing that police, firefighters, and teachers were jobs "not worth saving."
The top 10 contributors (not including political parties or other candidates) to John Boehner's campaign for the period of January 1, 2011 – December 31, 2012 represent a variety of interests.
In 2013, Boehner led his caucus in a strategy to hold Defense spending hostage in order to avoid reducing the deficit with revenue increases.
In February 2014, Boehner and his wife bought a $835,000 condo in Marco Island, Florida.
On September 25, 2015, Boehner announced that he would step down as Speaker and resign from Congress at the end of October 2015. Boehner's resignation took place after Pope Francis' address to Congress the day before, an event considered by Boehner personally as the highest point in his legislative career. Sources in his office indicated he was stepping aside in the face of increasing discord while trying to manage passage of a continuing resolution to fund the government. Conservative opposition to funding Planned Parenthood as part of the resolution, and stronger threats to Boehner's leadership on account of the controversy, prompted the abrupt announcement. Originally, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California had announced he would run for Speaker and was seen as the prohibitive favorite. On October 8, 2015, McCarthy abruptly announced he would not run for Speaker, citing that he felt he could not effectively lead a fractured Republican Caucus. After McCarthy's announcement, Boehner announced that he would stay on as Speaker until a successor was chosen. After initially turning down requests from Republican Leaders, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman and 2012 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan of Wisconsin announced he would run for Speaker and had received Boehner's blessing. In his final act as Speaker, Boehner presided over the election to succeed him. After announcing that Ryan had garnered a majority of votes on the House floor, Boehner officially passed off the Speaker's gavel to Ryan on October 29, 2015. Boehner's resignation from Congress became official October 31, 2015, at 11:59 p.m.
Boehner joined the board of tobacco company Reynolds American on September 15, 2016.
Boehner made headlines in April 2016 when he referred to Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz as "Lucifer in the flesh" in an interview at Stanford University. On May 12, after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, Boehner's support for him became public, though he distanced himself on several policies and expressed satisfaction with Cruz not securing the nomination: "Thank God the guy from Texas didn't win." On February 23, 2017, Boehner predicted Republicans would "fix" the Affordable Care Act and give it a different name as opposed to their stated intent to repeal and replace.
In 2018, John Boehner announced his joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis corporation, to "promote the use of medical marijuana", a shift in his previously Adam Ant opposition to cannabis legalization.
Furthermore, Kane argues, Boehner's persona alienated conservative Republicans who demanded more vigorous attacks on Obama and instead perceived, "a country club Republican who loved to play 18 holes of golf and drink merlot afterward while cutting deals. In an era of shouting and confrontation, on talk radio or cable TV, Boehner’s easygoing style did not fit."