To many members of Congress, Grover Norquist is a force to be reckoned with. Yet House Speaker John Boehner referred to the anti-tax activist on Thursday as a "random person" and sidestepped a reporter's questions about whether Norquist is a positive influence on GOP lawmakers.
"Our focus here is on jobs," said Boehner, R-Ohio. "We're doing everything we can to get our economy moving again and to get people back to work.
"It's not often I'm asked about some random person in America," he added, drawing reporters' laughter.
Asked again whether Norquist's opposition to tax increases was helpful for GOP lawmakers, Boehner said Republicans oppose tax increases because "we believe tax hikes will hurt our economy and put Americans out of work."
The conservative Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform, has been a major force in Washington for years by getting many members of Congress, including nearly all Republicans, to sign a pledge promising to oppose and vote against tax increases.
Adamant opposition to higher taxes among Republicans is one reason why Congress' special debt-cutting "supercommittee" has been unable so far to reach a compromise on mopping up red ink. Boehner has said it is essential that the special panel reach an agreement.
Later, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a written statement, "The speaker was making the point, in humorous manner, that Mr. Norquist is one of millions of Americans who oppose tax hikes because they will hurt our economy and put Americans out of work."
Forty House Republicans and 60 Democrats signed a letter on Wednesday urging the "supercommittee" to consider all options for raising revenues and cutting spending.