Boehner spent taxpayer money on etiquette school
March 9th, 2011
04:42 PM ET
11 years ago

Boehner spent taxpayer money on etiquette school

Washington (CNN) - As Speaker of the House, John Boehner regularly hosts foreign leaders visiting Washington, presides over joint meetings of the House and Senate, and gives out Congressional commendations. So, as he prepared to take over the post last year, he enrolled an aide in a class at a private school outside Washington, D.C. to learn proper etiquette.

According to public records listing payments by Boehner's office, and first reported by the publication Roll Call, the then Republican Leader spent $5,800 last December in tuition for his aide to attend a five day course this spring given by the Protocol School of Washington.

Because Boehner's office registered early for the class, which will meet in May in McLean, Virginia, his office received $500 discount off the regular $6,300 tuition fee for the five- day course.

Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker Boehner, defended the expenditure of taxpayer funds, saying, "Part of the ceremonial role of the Speaker is hosting foreign dignitaries. It's appropriate to do this properly."

Pamela Eyring, the president and director of the Protocol School of Washington, notes there is no formal training given by the government and the school is the only accredited program in the country. Referring to government aides assigned to these duties, Eyring said, "they have high turnover rates and there's no continuity. You're struggling, trying to find things on the internet, which aren't vetted."

She noted that often those new to dealing with interactions with high level foreign leaders or other dignitaries "can cause serious embarrassment to the United States or to the military if they don't know protocol."

The class the Boehner aide will attend is called "Protocol Officer Training" and is likely to include a mix of about 30 attendees from government, military, and corporate offices.

In the last four years the school has also coached an aide from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, an aide with the House Sergeant at Arms office that handles security, a staffer for the Library of Congress, and employees of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The school declined to give specifics on what training an aide from the Senate's GOP political arm would receive, but said others from academic institutions and other private groups focused on event planning and fundraising have attended sessions in recent years.

The protocol course covers personal leadership, proper rules on how to seat officials at official events, cross cultural awareness, and the basics of how to write invitations and arrange place cards at dinner tables. Attendees who complete the class receive a certificate and can follow up with experts at the school if they have questions about specific situations. The school has trained officials from the FBI, the CIA, NASA, as well as large companies like Boeing.

Eyring, a former chief of protocol at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Boehner's native state of Ohio, pointed to the speaker's working class roots and said that dealing with world leaders is likely new territory for him. "A lot of people that don't have exposure to international delegations or VIP's don't know what to do. Is it 'your Excellency or your honor?'

Boehner has already begun hosting a series of foreign leaders at the Capitol. Earlier this year he hosted a closed meeting with the Chinese President Hu and Wednesday he opened a joint meeting of Congress with a speech by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It's also an annual tradition for the speaker to host a lunch for the President of the United States and the Irish Prime Minister at the Capitol to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

It's not uncommon for the Speaker of the House to pay staff to handle the details of arranging visits, planning public events or handling who sits next to who on the dais or a dinner table. Boehner's office has assigned one aide who will attend the class to those duties, but his predecessor Nancy Pelosi had two full time aides who handled protocol. But the California congresswoman's spokesman also notes that these two aides had other responsibilities, such as coordinating internal requests from members to host events in various rooms in the Capitol, all of which fall under the speaker's office.

Pelosi's spokesman Drew Hammill, said their office did not pay for either of these aides to attend a class to learn proper etiquette. "We never did this."

One GOP aide said getting up to speed on appropriate procedures helps so Speaker Boehner "knows not to bow to the King of Saudi Arabia," a not so subtle jab referring to controversy that arose when President Obama appeared to bow when he greeted the King of Saudi Arabia in 2009.

Filed under: John Boehner
soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. lucky chucky

    Stop the presses John Bohner is wasting our tax dollars on something that's not needed.

    March 9, 2011 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  2. Name Creole

    OK!!!! Now where are the Tea Party Bag folks an the Party of No!!!!! But let Obama go onn a vacation and everybody start's doing the crazy dance........Boy I tell you.....Obama 2012

    March 9, 2011 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  3. Clwyd

    And his grade was? F!

    March 9, 2011 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  4. amigay

    10-1 this school is affiliated with some Republican legislator.

    March 9, 2011 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  5. Chris - Denver

    I approve of this use of my tax money. Those congress critters need all the etiquette they can get.

    March 9, 2011 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  6. PMathew

    I don't particularly like Boehner but this is a real nonevent.

    That said, could you imagine the uproar the GOP would be in if a democrat did this?

    March 9, 2011 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  7. Chad

    This is an issue? I assume that most our leaders go through some sort of courses on how to properly work with other nationalities. What next CNN? You going to tell us he wastes water by flushing the toilet?

    March 9, 2011 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  8. Dave, Central Illinois

    I understand that most Libs that post on these forums live in their parents basement and don't work, but you should understand that continueing education in the workplace is common. Perhaps the President could use that class as well....

    March 9, 2011 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  9. Senor

    Are we sure that it is a good idea for Boehner to be entertaining foreign dignitaries? What if he starts crying in front of them?

    March 9, 2011 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  10. J. Samuel Cook

    He's a Republican, so no harm/no foul.

    It's okay for Republicans to be fiscally irresponsible. They meant well.

    March 9, 2011 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  11. GonzoinHouston

    As one of Boehner's many critics, I have to admit that this one is probably a pretty good expenditure. $5800 is not too high a price to prevent 2 or 3 national embarrassments.

    March 9, 2011 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  12. mike d

    Cnn does investigative journalism when it comes to GOP. but when it comes democrat they go to sleep.

    March 9, 2011 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  13. Charlotte

    OK, clearly this is training that GOPers need more than Dems, and I don't think it has anything to do with their geographical roots, although perhaps their upbringing. But c'mon – $5800 for five days? A thousand dollars a day??? I bet the local community college or Cooperative Extension offers classes at a couple hundred bucks, or you could buy them a copy of Emily Post or Miss Manners. Another indication of the out-of-touch rich people republicans. That expensive five-day class would finance a big chunk of some poor kid's tuition for a semester at college somewhere.

    March 9, 2011 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  14. aaron in MN

    Correction Don, the "country" isn't broke, far from it! The government is broke thanks to the GOP and the DEMS creating the largest wealth inequality in the history of the planet thus losing us 8 millions jobs. Remember when the tax rate was 25% on the rich in the 1920s? We had the largest wealth inequality ever, at the time, the 21st century is now larger as of last year. And then Bush gave us the 2nd lowest tax rate of all time at 35%? Once again a crash of the markets? Coindidence? Me thinks not! 1930-1947 was the "great contracttion" of wealth. We increased the tax rate to ~70% on the wealthy. Middle class income grew by 80%. The wealthy dropped 17%. We need that to happen again if we want to prevent another recession. Until then..tick....tock...tick...tock...

    March 9, 2011 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  15. MN Libtard

    Now there's an appropriate use of American tax dollars

    March 9, 2011 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  16. pw

    Hey john of orange: Any idiot can tell dinner fork from a salad fork. What a waste of taxpayer's money.

    March 9, 2011 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  17. Suzen

    Chief of Protocol of the United States is Capricia Marshall. There always has a person doing this job Why did he feel he needed to pay an outsider to do what someone already does?

    March 9, 2011 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  18. Writer_TonyC

    Let's see: a few thousand bucks spent to properly educate the Speaker of the House's aide on the proper protocol and etiquette to use in a meet-and-greet with a foreign dignitary or saving the money and possibly causing an international incident (with God knows what unintended consequences). I'd rather we spent the money and avoided any potential embarrassing situations...unless you're one of those who thinks it's OK to be insulting to a guest of our country simply because they're a 'furriner'.

    March 9, 2011 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  19. beccaa

    any additional training for my job comes out of my pocket first. Then I MAY be reimubursed for PART ONLY IF I submit the correct paper work. My employers view is that while it benefits them, it will benefit me more...

    March 9, 2011 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  20. Barry

    Come on CNN, is that the best you can do. No wonder FOX rules!

    March 9, 2011 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  21. Pat

    Our tax dollars already pay for a State Department protocol office and staff of protocol officers who who plan state functions every day and know all the information being taught in these classes. (It's probably taught by current or former protocol officers) So because Boehner wants his own protocol guy we pay twice. He should have his staff communicate with the protocol office on questions of protocol or pay for his own staff's training our of his own pocket... Not ours.

    March 9, 2011 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
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