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House Majority Leader John Boehner on policy and politics

Monday, August 28, 2006
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HH: It’s an honor now to have the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives of the United States. Congressman John Boehner joins us. Congressman, it’s always a pleasure to have you.

JB: I’m glad to be here.

HH: Nice to meet you in person. Fellow Buckeye.

JB: I know. It is nice.

HH: I’m glad you…you’re in Southern California to do some campaigning for a bunch of people, I imagine.

JB: That’s correct.

HH: Who are you out here to help?

JB: Well, in this stop, it’s for Congressman John Campbell.

HH: Oh, a very disreputable character. He’s a very good friend of mine.

JB: I understand.

HH: Yeah. And are you staying in California any longer?

JB: Well, I was up in Central California, in the valley, late last week with Richard Pombo.

HH: Great.

JB: Devin Nunes.

HH: Now I was just reading from a couple of surveys, Mr. Majority Leader. A lot of Democrats are trumpeting that they’re going to win the House, but I don’t see it in the numbers. I don’t see it in the 7th in Colorado, I don’t see it in the 5th in Connecticut. Where are they getting these numbers?

JB: I’ve been on the road for over 30 days, helping our candidates who need help. And people who are in tough races have been in tough races. They know what to do. They’re doing their job, and I don’t see it, either, in no way, shape or form.

HH: So when you hear Stu Rothenberg, or Charlie Cook or Bob Novak pronouncing that the Democrats are going to win 25-30 seats, what are they doing?

JB: Well, it’s all this inside the beltway blabber that goes on. They create their own echo chamber over there. I watched some of the Sunday talk shows, where I heard the same nonsense. But I keep looking at the races, adding up the numbers. It’s just not going to happen.

HH: What about the money edge? You’ve been obviously out there raising dollars. People want to come talk with the majority leader. You can attract a big crowd. People will write some checks. Are we ahead? I know you outraised them 3-1 in July. But overall, cash on hand, the ability to go hard in the last 70 days?

JB: We’re going to be in very good shape, very good shape.

HH: And is the RNC in the same way? The Senate is not. Chuck Schumer has outraised the Republicans in the Senate.

JB: But the Republican National Committee will do more for House and Senate Republicans in this cycle than anything they have every dreamt of doing in multiples. And that will be a very big help to us.

HH: Now explain how that is. Is that just money? Or is that organization? Or is it also messaging?

JB: It’s all of the above. Especially with the on the ground effort, we’ve got technology that helps us identify likely voters that can be employed, that we’ve developed. The Democrats do not have such a program. And it’s very helpful with the campaigns of identifying potential voters, and then in getting them out to vote.

HH: Before we go to break, Mr. Majority Leader, let’s talk a little bit about the talking points. Duncan Hunter, a friend of the program, chairman of the Armed Services, released a letter to Ike Skelton today, blasting him for suggesting there hadn’t been oversight in the House of Representatives. I love that stuff, because it’s right back at them. Is that going to be the next 70 days?

JB: It’s going to be tough. We’re in a very tough political environment. People don’t understand why we’re in Iraq, they don’t like to see the pictures on TV, don’t understand that we’re in a very serious war with radical, Islamic fundamentalists who mean to end our way of life. And so as a result, the President’s numbers are down. And when his numbers are down, it sits on our numbers. And so, I think over the next 70 days, you’re going to see us spend a lot of time talking about national security and the war against these radical, Islamic fundamentalists.

HH: We have 45 seconds to break. Mr. Boehner, are you going to get the Gitmo authorization passed so that the tribunals are authorized, as the Supreme Court wanted before you guys go home before the election?

JB: I believe we will.

HH: Will it be acceptable, do you think, to the President?

JB: We’ve worked very closely with the White House on the language, and I do think it will be more than acceptable to the White House.

HH: Congressman, the economy is doing very, very well. The price of gas is down 15 points. It’s not showing up in the polls. Why is what Larry Kudlow calls every Friday, the greatest story never told, not sinking in with the electorate?

JB: I have a theory that there’s an awful lot of anxiety amongst the American people. And right now, whether it’s the war in Iraq, the war that Israel was fighting with Hezbollah…but it really goes back to 9/11, a war in Afghanistan, a war in Iraq. You’ve got an economy where you’ve got jobs shifting, you’ve got outsourcing going on, you’ve got pensions that were in trouble. And you begin to add up all of these events, there’s an awful lot of anxiety, not to mention that most Americans aren’t ready to retire. They’ve got more bills than they’ve got cash. And you start adding up these anxieties that are out there, it makes it very difficult for people to see that we have a very good economy.

HH: Now what do you do about that? If you’re a candidate, you cannot try and break through the clutter in 70 days. Is that a national advertising campaign that the RNC puts forward? Or do you just give up on that issue and run on the war?

JB: No, I think that what we want is we want our members to run a campaign in their district for them to get re-elected. And the issues are different. You know, if you’re in the Northeast, upper Midwest, jobs, the economy, probably, are more important issues than even the war. Some parts of the country, immigration’s the number one issue. And so each candidate has to run their race in their district, based on what their constituents are telling them.

HH: Now the NSA surveillance of al Qaeda contacting their operatives in the United States is a flashpoint. You know your colleagues on the other side of the aisle in the House are adament against this, happy with the Detroit judge who declared it unconstitutional. The folks I talk to, and I’m a professor of Con Law. I have no problem seeing that this is part of the President’s war powers. What is the House going to do about it? Are they just going to wait for the courts to do jump ball? Or are they going to act proactively to give the President assurance that they side with him in this?

JB: The Congress will move in September to make it clear that the President has this authority. This program has been very effective in helping to track down terrorists, and to protect the American people. And to allow this judge to come in and try to shut the program down is just not going to happen. And so, you’ll see the Congress move, and you’ll see Republicans stand up and support the President, and stand up and support protecting the American people, while we’ll see most Democrats vote against it.

HH: Now that will come through the Judiciary Committee, correct?

JB: It will.

HH: That would be a John Conyers committee if the House were to go into Democratic hands?

JB: Correct, the gentleman who’s first bill he introduced this session of Congress was to impeach the President.

HH: Would you contrast the people who run the committees now with those who would run the committees under a speaker Pelosi and a majority leader Murtha?

JB: Well, they’re members who have been there far longer than our chairmen, so they’ve been there all 25-35 years, and in the case of Dingell, even longer. He’s been there 53 years. They’re very liberal, part of the establishment that was there in 1994 that we defeated, that would attempt to move the Congress severely to the left. I don’t think we want that.

HH: Is the…Rangel is Ways and Means, right?

JB: That’s correct.

HH: End of tax cuts then.

JB: Yes. No tax cuts. Tax increases. Here they come.

HH: Who runs Appropriations under a speaker Pelosi?

JB: David Obey, big liberal, Wisconsin.

HH: Now spending has been a flashpoint with a lot of Republicans.

JB: Yes, it has.

HH: It would be a significantly greater problem under David Obey. I don’t know that people understand that, really.

JB: No, they don’t. And you can’t blame them. There’s 435 members of Congress. It’s hard to even know who your own member of Congress is, much less who some of these other characters are. But I think the Republicans have a very good chance of maintaining the majority. Frankly, I’m confident of it. We’ve got work to do, we’re going to do our work, because elections are about choices. It’s not a referendum on this party or the other. It’s about a choice. And frankly, our candidates around the country are doing a very good job, they’re making it clear what those choices are, and my job as the majority leader here over the next five weeks that we’re still in session before we break for the election, will be to help clarify that there is a choice. And the American people have to choose.

HH: Give us one or two upset specials before we go to break. We’ll come back and talk about immigration. But what about the ones that no one’s looking at that we’re going to surprise the Democrats with.

JB: Well, I think Leonard Boswell out of Des Moines, and then South, is being opposed by Jeff Lamberti. I think we have a real shot at winning that seat.

HH: Okay. How do people contribute, in your mind, most effectively at this point? Do they try and pick them? Or do they go to the NRCC?

JB: I think the best thing to do is go to the NRCC. They know where…how the candidates are doing. They’re already poised to spend X amount in certain districts. It’s the most efficient way.

HH: NRCC.org.

JB: Org.

HH: NRCC.org is the National Republican Congressional Commitee.

HH: Let’s get to some very quick three issues, Mr. Majority Leader. First, we were talking during the break about Islamic facism, and the war against Islamic jihadism, and the fact that this…there’s going to be a mini-series next week, The Road To 9/11. It didn’t begin on 9/11, and you went onto a list of events that a lot of Americans forget are all interconnected.

JB: Well, it really goes back to the 1980’s, when these terrorists began this movement, and began to kill people all over the world. And world leaders looked up, they looked away, and they hoped the problem would go away. The experience of the United States was the same. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the bombing of our barracks in Lebanon, where 265 Marines died, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the two Embassies in Africa in 1998, that were bombed. And then, the USS Cole was bombed, and what did we do? We looked up, we looked away, and we hoped the problem would go away. But after 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, the idea of looking up, looking away and hoping the problem would go away is not the answer. And the Democrats believe that this will just go away. And the fact is, we have to take on these Islamic jihadists, and we have to win. There’s no other choice, and it’s no accident that America hasn’t been attacked since 9/11. We’ve taken the fight to them, and we’ve done a much better job of protecting our homeland.

HH: You’ve served a long time with a very fine American, Jack Murtha, who is obviously quite a heroic veteran of Vietnam, and honorably served there, and he’s from your next door state, Pennsylvania, where they know nothing about football, but they turn out great Americans. What happened? What’s going on there?

JB: I really don’t know. Jack Murtha is a war hero, he’s a very well respected member of Congress. I’ve worked with him on dozens of issues. He’s a rock solid guy. But for whatever reason, he’s gone south, and believes that pulling our troops out of Iraq is in the best interest of the United States. I disagree.

HH: He wants your job. He wants to be the majority leader of the Democrats.

JB: Yes, he does.

HH: And Nancy Pelosi wants to be the speaker. I can’t imagine two more people less like Speaker Hastert and yourself than Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Murtha.

JB: I can’t, either.

HH: What would the atmosphere of a Pelosi-Murtha House of Representatives be when it comes to cooperation with the executive?

JB: There would be no cooperation, because everything that they would do in ’07 and ’08 would be pointed toward trying to help their candidate in the ’08 presidential election. That’s their real goal, is to take the White House back, and the House and Senate.

HH: Let me ask you about Katrina, because the President’s down there. I just finished an MSNBC bit with Tucker Carlson, and they’re saying nothing was done. In fact, $110 billion dollars was appropriated by the House of Representatives. Did the House respond, in your opinion, Majority Leader Boehner, appropriately to the disaster?

JB: I believe we did. There…we did what they asked us that was within our jurisdiction. And we put more conditions and more eyes on the money than we’ve ever done on a major project like this, to make sure it was spent for its intended purposes. And you only have to look at the difference between what’s going on in Mississippi and what’s going on in Louisiana. Mississippi got as much of the storm as did Louisiana. But Haley Barbour, the governor there, and the state officials have done a marvelous job of getting their act together, using the federal funds, rebuilding their part of the damaged area. It’s not all finished. They’ve got a long way to go. But Louisiana on the other hand, they’ve just sat on their hands. And it’s a shame, but this was the largest natural disaster to ever hit our country. And to think that it’s going to get cleaned up and rebuilt overnight is also not realistic.

HH: Let’s take our last three minutes to talk about immigration, Majority Leader Boehner, because you’re in California. I’m sure you’re hearing about it at every stop, and it divided the party. The McCain-Kennedy approach did not go over well with Chairman Sensenbrenner, and Chairman Sensenbrenner seems to be winning. What’s going to happen, if anything, in September? What’s going to happen long term?

JB: We’ve had series of hearings over the last six weeks, looking at the Senate bill, and some of the more bizarre provisions in the Senate bill, the children of illegal immigrants being able to get in-state tuition, regardless of the state they live in.

HH: Social security benefits for years here illegally.

JB: Social security benefits while you’re here illegally. And so, the hearings have gone well, and they’ve served the purpose that they were designed to produce, and that is to strengthen our hand as we negotiate with the United States Senate. Those conversations with the Senate have been ongoing over the last several months. They’re going to continue. Whether we can get a bill before the election or not is up in the air. But I do believe by the end of the year, we’re likely to have a strong bill that strengthens our border, and enforces our laws.

HH: What is the agenda for the four weeks? I know you’ve got to do the Guantanamo Bay detainees bill. What else is on…

JB: And the NSA eavesdropping bill will be two of the big issues that we deal with. We’ve got three appropriation bills: defense, military quality of life, and homeland security. But before we do any of that, I think that you’ll see the House move to end the practice of earmarking. And I don’t want to say end it, but require that there be disclosure, and a clear identification of every earmark in an appropriation bill, an authorization bill, or tax bill, with a name attached to it. We’ve talked about this…

HH: You’ve never earmarked anything.

JB: I’ve never earmarked anything in the 16 years that I’ve been there, and I believe that if you’re going to earmark it, it ought to be easy to find, clearly disclosed, and then have a name on it. Now the threat of this all year has already reduced the number of earmarks in half. But I believe if you have to put your name on this, it will further drive down the number of earmarks. And if you look at the members who’ve gotten in trouble, some of the earmarks that have not passed the straight-face test, would never be there if someone had to put a name on it.

HH: Do you credit the blogosphere with some of the momentum here, the Porkbuster guys at Instapundit, Truth Laid Bear and the rest of them?

JB: They’ve certainly been helpful. But this is something that I’ve been talking about all year. It was part of an ethics and lobby reform bill. We’ve been in negotiations with the Senate. We’re still going to try to get this bill finished. But before these appropriation bills, these conference reports come out, I want to make sure that the House does by rule what we hope to do for both bodies.

HH: And the Senate then…it would be up to the Senate to adopt a similar rule, but it not imposed on them.

JB: Correct.

HH: Congressman John Boehner, thank you for being here.

JB: Great to be here. It was great to meet you in person, and the next time I do your show over the air, or over the telephone, I have some idea of what you look like.

HH: It’s a good…I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but we’ll just take it at that. John Boehner, majority leader of the House of Representatives.

End of interview.

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