HH: Joined now by the minority leader in the House of Representatives, the Honorable John Boehner from Ohio. Congressman, good to have you back.
JB: Hugh, it’s good to be with you. It’s the Republican leader.
HH: I know…that’s what I should have said, Republican leader. Now, it’s been reported that after the retreat that you went on, you declared that the party was tossed out of power because of the people’s view of what was happening in Iraq. Is that in fact your view, Mr. Boehner?
JB: I think that the number one issue for our problems last November was Iraq, and people’s view of what was happening in Iraq, I think corruption played a role, and I think the fact that Republicans didn’t control spending, kind of let the idea inventory drop to zero. There was another factor in there, as well, that would include those issues.
HH: What do you think the people thought was going on in Iraq, to use your phrase?
JB: Well, clearly, the American people have been losing their support for what’s happening in Iraq. They want to see more success. And the President has a new plan. I think given what’s gone on, I think it’s right that he has a plan, and what I’m trying to do is ensure that his plan works.
HH: You have put forward a resolution calling for benchmarks, or at least suggesting a committee that would oversee benchmarks. Can you explain what your proposal was, Mr. Boehner?
JB: Well, there’s two parts to this proposal. One is that I think that there ought to be a bipartisan group that oversees the implementation of the President’s new plan, five Democrats, five Republicans. And our five Republicans would be the ranking members on the five committees that have some involvement with Iraq. Secondly, we would have a series of benchmarks. We require that the administration report every 30 days. And the point of this is to try to make sure that the President’s strategy is successful. And you know, the benchmarks will allow us to determine whether sufficient progress is being made in Iraq to stabilize the new democracy there, to deny terrorists a safe haven, to ensure stability in the region. And I think any plan that limits our ability to achieve these goals is a plan for failure, and I think failure in Iraq is not an option. We will destabilize Iraq, we will provide a safe haven for the terrorists in Iraq, they will have access to their oil revenues, we destabilize the Middle east, and on top of all that, we will embolden terrorists in every corner of the world, and they will follow us right back here to America.
HH: Do you think…
JB: And so, what I’m trying to do is to ensure that Iraq’s a success. If you look around Iraq, we’ve had a lot of success in Iraq. But guess what? Not many people know about it.
HH: I know, but Mr. Boehner, do you believe that the enemy watches closely what the debate on the Hill is?
JB: Oh, absolutely.
HH: What do you think the enemy thinks about your benchmark proposal?
JB: Uh, I think it helps the administration. I think it puts pressure on the Iraqi government to step up. If you look at the President’s proposal, it’s dependent upon the relatively new Iraqi government to step up and do what it has to do. And I think that having these benchmarks out there send a very clear signal to the Iraqis that we’re going to expect them to do what they have to do.
HH: But the question was what do you think the enemy thinks about your resolution?
JB: We’re measuring progress. We’re measuring success.
HH: But do you think the enemy thinks it’s a bad thing that you’ve put this into place?
JB: I don’t think so.
HH: You think the enemy thinks…
JB: You’ve got a lot of non-binding sense of the House, and sense of the Congress resolutions floating around here that are meaningless. And I think that some of the debate here in Washington really is giving clear signals to the enemy that a lot of members here want to withdraw.
HH: But the benchmark resolution does not do that?
JB: I believe that the resolution I’ve put forward is an effort to give Republicans in the House a responsible place to support what’s going on. As the executive branch well knows, the legislative branch has a responsibility to provide oversight of the administration. And I think the two-part proposal that I have outlined brings more Republicans to one place in the House than anything else that’s out there.
HH: Now if you thought your benchmark resolution was encouraging the enemy, would you drop it?
JB: If I believed that, I would. But I don’t believe that to be the case.
HH: General Petraeus…
JB: What we’re trying to do…
HH: General Petraeus said…I hate to push you, but we don’t have a lot of time, Mr. Boehner. General Petraeus said all these resolutions are encouraging the enemy.
JB: I don’t believe that. I mean, really, if I believed it, I’d not have it at all.
HH: I understand that…
JB: Our plan to put this proposal out there is to try to bring success, is to try to help the President succeed with his plan in Iraq.
HH: I understand that’s your motive. Some people, I think, are going to support this, because they want political cover. But if, in fact, General Petraeus and Secretary Gates say, as they both did last week, that these sorts of resolutions are encouraging the enemy and emboldening the enemy, shouldn’t they be dropped?
JB: Well, if I believed that to be the case, I wouldn’t have the resolution.
HH: But that’s…this goes down to should we trust Minority Leader Boehner and your fine staff of loyal Republicans? Or should we trust General Petraeus and Secretary Gates? I’m going with Petraeus and Gates.
JB: No, we’re trying to support them. And understand that if you look at the benchmarks outlined in the resolution that I’ve put forward, there are no timelines. It measures progress in a number of different areas, and I think it will be helpful to the administration, because I believe in most of these areas, we’re going to see success.
HH: But what I’m coming back…I disagree with you, Mr. Boehner. And you’re the leader, and I’m just a talk show host, but I agree with General Petraeus, and I agree with Secretary Gates. Why in the world, since I agree with them and believe that your resolution is assisting the enemy, should I help the Republican Party, because I think you’re hurting the war. I think you’re undermining the war. Why in the world would I support you guys?
JB: Well, as I’ve said, my goal here is to help the President, and to do my job as a member of Congress. We have an obligation to provide oversight, and I believe that the way I’ve structured this with a bipartisan panel, requiring the administration to report every 30 days, and having benchmarks without timelines on them, is responsible as a member of Congress doing my Constitutional duty.
HH: I understand that…
JB: And on top of that, my goal is to help ensure that the President succeeds.
HH: I understand that, but given that I’m a Republican who believes it’s wrongheaded, counterproductive and destructive of victory, how should I respond to the party leadership when I hear you put something out that directly contradicts General Petraeus and Secretary Gates? I mean, what do you want us to do?
JB: Well, look. Okay, I think there’s a difference between you being a talk show host and me being the leader of the Republicans in the House. And one of the issues is this, if I don’t put a proposal out there that I think is responsible and helps the administration succeed, and our members have nowhere to go, you’re going to see more than I’d like to see, or anyone else would like to see, to vote for the only resolution that’s out there. I don’t think that helps the administration, I think that helps undermine their chances of success in Iraq, and I don’t want to see that happen.
HH: Well, I believe it might take some courage to vote for or against resolutions as they come up. But again, I’m going back to, as a Republican, which I am, and a very good one, you’re the leader of my party in the House of Representatives. I think you’re doing a terribly misguided thing that hurts the war. How do you want us to respond? Should we continue to give money to the Republican National Committee, or the National Republican Congressional Committee, when I think you guys are crazy?
JB: Hugh, it’s not like you don’t know me. My goal, my intentions here, and my goal here is to help this plan succeed. I believe that victory in Iraq is the only option. And I believe that from the bottom of my soul. There isn’t anybody on this Hill that’s more supportive of President Bush than me.
HH: Mr. Leader, I believe that, but I also think…
JB: And if I thought this was going to undermine their effort, I wouldn’t be involved in that.
HH: I know that, but you’re wrong. I mean, I don’t think you people ever hear us say you’re just flat-out, 100% dangerously wrong, and since…
JB: I certainly respect your opinion.
HH: Well then, how should I…I should not send you any money or any help, should I? Because I think you can be wrong about a lot of things. In a party, it’s going to happen. We’re going to disagree. But you don’t get to live to fight another day when you’re wrong about the war. How do you want us to…
JB: This is a case where John McCain and I, Senator McCain and I, are in roughly the same corner, and that doesn’t happen as often as it should.
JB: But you have to look at where…what all of these other proposals that are out there, that are, in fact, I think, undermining the President’s ability to make sure this plan succeeds.
HH: Yeah, but Mr. Boehner, Ronald Reagan had a view towards the Soviet Union: We win, they lose. That’s my view towards the war. Why not put a resolution out, we win, they lose, and we will stay until we win?
JB: I think I’ve been pretty clear that that is the goal that I have in putting forward this resolution.
HH: We’ve got about a minute left…
JB: …and making sure the President has the support he needs on the Hill.
HH: But you know, benchmarks don’t come across that way to me, they don’t come across that way to the enemy, they don’t come across to the people you’re trying to reach, and I guess I’ll give you thirty seconds. Do you want to hear from people?
JB: Of course.
HH: Where should they talk to you?
JB: This is representative government.
HH: Well, that’s what…I’m afraid it’s not. I don’t know how you guys have talked yourselves into this, but it sure sounds like round heels to me, Mr. Leader.
JB: No. Again, remember this. We believe that victory’s the only option, that this plan helps the administration succeed with their plan in Iraq, holds the Iraqi government accountable. I think that’s the responsible thing to do, and I think it will help the administration.
HH: All right, Mr. Leader, I appreciate your coming on, and I hope you’ll come back soon, and we’ll continue the conversation.
End of interview.