Speaker of the House
United States House of Representatives
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John Andrew Boehner is a Republican American politician who is currently serving as the House Minority Leader in the 111th Congress. He serves as a U.S. Representative from Ohio's 8th congressional district, which includes several rural and suburban areas near Cincinnati and Dayton and a small portion of Dayton itself.
Major Elliott Garrett is a Congressional correspondent with the National Journal. Prior to joining the National Journal he was the senior White House correspondent for the Fox News Channel. He covered the 2004 presidential election, the War on Terror, and the 2008 presidential election where he covered the Democratic primaries and later Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee.
He is married to Julie Kirtz, a Washington, D.C. correspondent for Fox News weekend.
Speaker of the House John Boehner believes that instead of campaigning for 2012, President Barack Obama should be taking a more active leadership role in helping Democrats and Republicans in Washington find common ground.
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By happy coincidence, the President of the United States is going to have a pressconference in about 10 minutes. And as you know, sir, I have some vague familiaritywith the cable news industry.So I'm going to give you an opportunity you don't often have, which is to look intothose cameras and ask the President of the United States a question, which might betranslated at the press conference 10 minutes hence.BOEHNER: Well, Mr. President, why have you given up on the country and decided tocampaign full time instead of doing what the American people sent us all here to doand that's to find common ground to deal with the big challenges that face oureconomy and our country.GARRETT: There you go, cable news, have at it.Mr. Speaker...(LAUGHTER)(LAUGHTER)GARRETT: Mr. Speaker, the vice president was just on this stage and a moment ago hesaid roughly the following, that there was a rough agreement between yourself, EricCantor, the vice president, and the president on the debt ceiling.And but for the inability of either you or Mr. Cantor to control your rank and fileHouse Republicans that deal would have gone through.And he implied that the Republican Party is divided and weak and that's what'sholding the country back and prevented that deal.Would you like to address that assessment from the vice president?BOEHNER: I sure would.BOEHNER: You know, all year I talked to the president about the need to do what Icall the big deal.That I thought it was critically important for our country to deal with the -- thedebt problem that we had and that the best way to get there would have been for heand I to come to some agreement.I gotta tell you that I put every ounce of effort that I can and could into tryingto come to some agreement.President said that he needed revenues. I told the president I was willing -- I'dbe willing to do revenues but only if the president were willing to really look atfundamental reform of our entitlement programs, which is a big driver of our deficitand our debt.And -- and so I put revenues on the table even though the president never said, notone time, ever said yes to any meaningful reform of our entitlement programs.When the president called me and -- and asked for $400 billion of more revenue,before he ever agreed to any changes in the entitlement programs, is when I decidedwe were never going to get there.Could never get the president to the point where he would say yes to real changes inour entitlement programs.I had myself out, as far out on a limb as I could -- as I could possibly walk tryingto come to some agreement. But it takes two to tango and the president would neversay yes.GARRETT: Let's look at the legislative record, though, for your first year inCongress.You have had votes where your own Republicans have defied your request to vote withthem. That indicates, both to the White House and to the larger audience, thatthere are times on significant votes either where you need House Democrats tosupport you or you can't keep your own side together.Does this not weaken your hand legislatively and in high stakes negotiations withthe White House?BOEHNER: Well, there's no question that it does. And I made it clear to mycolleagues when I don't have 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow at one time, I -- I don'thave the strongest hand that I could have.But having said that, when you look at my colleagues and they're not -- and there'snot -- these are not freshman members by and large. No, these would be more seniormembers.I think it's a story that's been misunderstood most of the year but our -- some ofour members just want more. Listen, I'd -- I want more, too.GARRETT: Want more what?BOEHNER: They want more change. They may want it faster. And I don't disagreewith them.But when you've got Senate control by the Democrats, you've got Democrats in theWhite House, my job is to move the ball down the field, get things done on behalf ofthe American people and -- and I try to get as much as I can. But I want to be ableto move the ball down the field on behalf of the American people.GARRETT: Getting things done, moving the ball down the field, will you correlatethose desires with what is a historic and perpetually low assessment ofcongressional performance in polls dating to July of this year?The lowest ratings and I -- Mr. Speaker, you and I have known each other a longtime. I've been around Capitol Hill since 1990. I've never seen consistently adisparity of 70 percent or more of approval/disapproval.How much of that is your fault? How much of it is a fault of being unable to getthings done and move the ball down the field?BOEHNER: Well, listen, the Congress of the United States has been America'sfavorite whipping boy for 200 years. I understand that.GARRETT: Not to this magnitude, though, you concede that?BOEHNER: And -- and -- and the American people have -- they're concerned about ourcountry. The concern that I've seen over the last year, frankly, is turning to whatI would describe as fear.And when -- and when they watch Washington, they -- they don't see the kind ofanswers that they expect. It's a -- a -- we've got a unique system and right nowwe've got divided government.And so when we're having principled arguments in opposition with each other, theAmerican people don't like to watch it, don't like to see it. I understand that.But my job, and our job everyday, is to listen to the American people, to expresstheir will as we -- we try to address the big challenges that face our country.GARRETT: You helped create the Super Committee. What should the public expect outof the Super Committee?And do you have any sense that it will not make its stated goal of putting aproposal before Congress by November 23rd and that it might fudge its way through orget the deadline extended, that this all could come for not?BOEHNER: Well, based on my experience with the president and my long conversationswith the president and the vice president over the course of this year, I believethat the Congress and the administration -- our government has to act.We've got a big deficit problem. We've got a big debt problem. The problems inEurope continue to loom. Their -- their problems are larger than ours.And it's incumbent upon us to show the American people that we can do the rightthing. And, frankly, I think it's also incumbent upon us to show the rest of theworld that they can address their big challenges as well.And so as a result I am firmly committed to ensuring that the so-called SuperCommittee come to an outcome and a successful outcome.GARRETT: That will include some form of tax revenue?BOEHNER: I'd -- I'm not gonna predict what they will or won't do but there has tobe an outcome.The reason that the...GARRETT: Does your willingness in the conversations with the president to entertainincreases in revenue send a signal that you would like the Super Committee to hearand act upon?BOEHNER: I made it clear to the Republican members of the Super Committee that Iexpect there will be an outcome; that there has to be an outcome.The sequester that was built behind this is ugly. And it was meant to be ugly sothat no one would go there.I don't underestimate how hard it's going to be to come to an agreement by theso-called Super Committee but we have to get to one.We cannot let these challenges continue to -- you just can't keep kicking the candown the road. And it's happened here in Washington for far too long.GARRETT: Let me ask you about an issue that's very live in the Senate today andcould be live in your chamber in the very near future.There's a currency bill on the floor of the Senate. It had a 79-19 Motion toProceed vote. There's 61 co-sponsors of identical legislation in the House. AllenWest, yesterday, said you ought to bring it to the floor.Rob Portman, from Ohio, Senator who you know very well is supportive of thislegislation. You are not.Why are you not supportive? Why is it dangerous? And are you gonna reassess yourassessment of that if it passes the Senate?BOEHNER: Well, there's been concern from -- on my part and, frankly, from a lot ofquarters here in America about how the Chinese have manipulated their currency.There's been every effort that you can imagine out of our Treasury Department overthe last seven or eight years addressing this with the Chinese. There's been asignificant improvement in -- in the valuation of China's currency as a result ofthose conversations.But for the Congress of the United States to pass legislation to force the Chineseto do what is arguably very difficult to do, I think is wrong.It's dangerous. You could start a trade war. And a trade war, given the economicuncertainty here and all around the world is -- is -- it's just very dangerous andwe should not be engaged in this.And I've made it clear where my position is. I frankly think that the presidentagrees with me. But why isn't the president speaking up? Is he too busycampaigning?Why isn't he out there making it clear that this is ill conceived? I believe thathe agrees with me but he won't say it.GARRETT: To your point about exports and imports, if Charles Schumer were here, andI don't want to speak for him, he would say, look, we send about $100 billion ofimports. China sends anywhere from $300-$325 billion in exports to us.They're not gonna engage in a trade war because it would harm them economically.Charles Schumer describes, as does Lindsey Graham and other members of theRepublican Party, China as a currency bully. Is it not?BOEHNER: They -- they -- they have a lot of challenges in China. I've alwaysbelieved an engagement with them was the right thing for our country and the rightthing for the world.Building a commercial relationship between the -- the Chinese and the United Statesis in both of our interest. Should be aware that they're probably the largest buyerof United States agricultural products.There -- there's -- there's a -- there is a balance here that I think for thelong-term good of our country and for the future, for our kids and grandkids,maintaining this solid relationship is good.But any relationship is not gonna be perfect. And there would be -- you can find alot of imperfections in -- in this relationship.The administration continues -- needs to continue to work with the Chinese to gettheir -- their valuation of their currency correct. But this is not, in my opinion,an appropriate role for the Congress of the United States.GARRETT: You mentioned campaigning. I'd like to know if -- to what degree you wereeither relieved or alarmed that Sarah Palin is not running for president?(LAUGHTER)BOEHNER: I like Sarah Palin. I know Sarah Palin. Spent a couple of days in Alaskawith her before she ended up in this odyssey of the last few years and I think shemade the -- the right decision for herself.I think she can play a role in -- in the upcoming elections and I wish her well.GARRETT: Do you want her on the campaign trail with House Republicans who areeither seeking seats they don't currently possess or ones they're trying -- tryingto defend?BOEHNER: I think it'd be very helpful.GARRETT: You mentioned the president is spending, you suggested, an inordinateamount of time campaigning.Are you saying that is complicating your efforts to achieve results for the Americanpeople?BOEHNER: Well, Major, let me put it this way. I, you know, I've had my share ofdisappointments this year. Disappointed that the president and I couldn't come toan agreement on the big deal, disappointed that we couldn't pass some strongerlegislation in the House from some of my own colleagues.But I -- I -- nothing has disappointed me more than what's happened over the lastfive weeks. To watch the President of the United States give up on governing, giveup on leading and spend full time campaigning.I mean, we're on the Hill legislating. We've moved dozens of bills over to theUnited States Senate that are just sitting there that would help create jobs inAmerica.No leadership from the president and I can't tell you how dangerous our situation,our economy's in and -- and how dangerous the situation in Europe is.And yet the president, some 14 months before the election, throws in the towel anddecides he's gonna spend all of his time out campaigning.We're legislating. He's campaigning. It's -- it's very disappointing.GARRETT: The vice president, a few moments ago, said he believes you're a partnerof his and the president's. If I hear you correctly, you are declaring, here andnow, the president is no longer a partner of yours.BOEHNER: I'll sit down with the president on any day, at any time, which I alreadyhave all year, but I'll continue to do that to seek common ground.Yes, we have different ideas about what the appropriate role of the federalgovernment should be in our country and in our society, in our economy.But just because we have very different views doesn't mean that we shouldn't beseeking to find, all right, where's the common ground? Where's what we can agreeon?You know he sent his jobs bill up. And Mr. Cantor and I sent him a letter back lastweek outlining areas where we thought we could find common ground, whether it be thefree trade proposals, whether it be the infrastructure ideas and a -- and along-term highway bill, whether it be on one of the tax credits that he outlined.So there -- but -- but that's our job. Our job is to find common ground to help ourcountry. And while the American people know that we're not always going to agree,they do expect that we're gonna get something done.But it takes two to tango. And all year, you know, I've -- I've reached out to thepresident, reached out to the president, but you have to have a willing partner.I mean, all year I've asked the president, send the trade agreements up. Send thetrade agreements up.And here we are on the eve of the -- of the visit by the president of South Koreaand -- and -- and we're gonna have to move these trade bills with expeditious speedin -- in order to maintain our very good relationship with a very good ally.GARRETT: Two national security questions: as the country is approaching the 10thanniversary of the war in Afghanistan, the country is, to put it mildly, conflictedabout that ongoing war.What has it achieved? How much longer should it continue? And secondarily, relatedto the war on terrorism, has President Obama been as effective, more effective, orequally effective as President Bush?BOEHNER: I think if you've watched over the course of the last three years, I'vebeen very supportive of the president's decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I-- when there are questions or concerns I'll -- I'll raise them forthrightly.But by and large, the president has continued the effort to take on the Taliban, totake on al-Qaeda and -- and to help ensure that America stays secure.Listen, I think our number one responsibility, as a federal government, is to ensurethe safety and security of the American people.I think that making sure in Afghanistan that -- that the enemy doesn't have safeground in which to plan, train and execute attacks on Americans here and abroad is-- is the goal. There -- we need to have success there.And I think so far the president's done -- done just fine.GARRETT: There would be those who support the president who would say Osama binLaden, Anwar al-Awlaki, other drone strikes successful in Pakistan and elsewhere,have made him a more effective prosecutor of the war on terror than President Bush.Would you disagree?BOEHNER: I think that when you look at the prosecution of the war effort againstthe enemy in the tribal areas, there's clearly more been done under President Obamathan it was under President Bush, in terms of a more aggressive effort focused atthem.GARRETT: Mr. Speaker, this is an ideas forum. I want to broaden the conversationbefore we end. We have about two-and-a-half more minutes.America lost one of its great innovative minds last night, Steve Jobs. He had acareer that was innovative in the early stages of it. Then he was fired, sort ofsidelined in his company. Then he came back.Not to put too fine a point on it, sir, that is in some ways consistent with yourtrajectory here in Washington.(LAUGHTER)BOEHNER: I'm starting to get the gist of the question there.(LAUGHTER)GARRETT: Broadly speaking, Mr. Speaker, what has Steve Jobs taught you, taughtAmerica about the power of innovation? And will you ever or have you ever worn bluejeans and a mock turtleneck in public?(LAUGHTER)BOEHNER: Well, that would probably be no and no.Listen, we live in the greatest country in the world. And our forefathers gave usan economic system that produced opportunities for our citizens unlike any othercountry in the world.I came here for one reason: to make sure that those opportunities were available toour kids and grandkids.I think a lot of Americans don't believe that the opportunities that we had, all ofus in this room had, are gonna be available to our kids and grandkids because we're-- we're -- we're killing the goose that laid the golden egg.It's America's free enterprise system, it's America's openness, it's American'sdiversity that has allowed us the -- the opportunities to succeed and, frankly, theopportunity to fail. You can't have one or the other. You're always gonna haveboth.And I just think that government's gotten too big. It's gotten way too involved inour society. It's become way too expensive. And all of that gets in the way ofwhat I would describe as the American dream.But in America, listen, I tell audiences I was born with the glass half full. I'mthe optimist. Hell, if I wasn't I sure wouldn't be here.And -- and I want all Americans to believe and understand that they can do whateverthey want to do. They can -- they can succeed. They can -- they can innovate.This is -- this is America.And I go to -- I used to go to a lot of schools. I don't go to as many of themanymore because I -- I ended up in too many poor schools with great kids. Most ofthem will never have a chance because they're in a rotten school. And I get alittle worked up over it, as you all know.But, you know, my mission -- my message to all of these kids in these schools is,listen, you grow up and be whatever you want to be.And I think that, you know, most of us have to work for a living. Life -- workbecomes life's central activity so go do something you like. Go succeed atsomething that you want to succeed at, regardless of what it is.GARRETT: Mr. Speaker, on behalf the Atlantic, the Newseum, and the Washington IdeasForum, thank you very much for your time.BOEHNER: Thank you.(APPLAUSE)END