With 426 votes cast in a roll call of the new 113th Congress, 220 Republicans voted to retain Boehner as their leader. The Ohio Republican needed at least 217 votes to pull through.
Nine Republicans, largely newly sworn-in freshmen, voted for alternatives to Boehner. Outgoing Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) received two votes, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has recently disagreed with Boehner over the "fiscal cliff" and a Superstorm Sandy aid package, received three. Cantor voted for Boehner.
Boehner has been under fire recently for his acceptance of the Senate's fiscal cliff deal, which right-wing Republicans in the House said did not cut spending enough, and for his reluctance to bring to the floor a disaster aid package for victims of Superstorm Sandy. The speaker has since announced the House will vote on a small bill on Friday and a larger package on Jan. 15.
Pundits outside the House also criticized Boehner for moving forward with the fiscal cliff bill without a majority share of Republicans behind him, violating the "Hastert rule," which says that only legislation supported by the majority of the majority party should be brought to the floor.
Former Speaker Dennis Hastert, for whom the rule is named, spoke out about the fiscal cliff vote Thursday.
"Here is the problem. Maybe you can do it once, maybe you can do it twice, but when you start making deals when you have to get Democrats to pass the legislation, you are not in power anymore,” Hastert said on Fox News Radio. "When you start passing stuff that your members are not in line with, all of a sudden your ability to lead is in jeopardy because somebody else is making decisions."
But all of that criticism seemed to wash away Thursday, as critics such as Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) voted in favor of the speaker, and several representatives who initially demurred on voting eventually voted for Boehner.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), nominated by fellow California Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), won 192 votes for speaker from Democrats, with just five Democrats defecting, including Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who voted for Colin Powell, a Republican.
Boehner, holding back tears as he gave his victory address, signaled that he would focus on federal spending.
"Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems," he said. "At $16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state."
Boehner also highlighted the difficult battles waiting for the 113th Congress.
"Public service was never meant to be an easy living. Extraordinary challenges demand extraordinary leadership," he said. "So if you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is behind you."
Staff writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.