Leadership Battle: Talking to John Boehner

Posted: Nov 16, 2006 6:02 PM
Leadership Battle: Talking to John Boehner

(Note: Bloggers hold a conference call with John Boehner from Ohio's 8th. Boehner was first elected in 1990 and currently serves as House Majority Leader.)

Congressman Boehner: Let me just start by saying thank you for inviting me to talk with all of you today; I appreciate your time and willingness to from me about my plans for House Republicans. I think in the wake of last week’s defeat the Republicans have engaged in, and I think much needed, dialogue about our party and its future. I think it’s a healthy exercise, one from which Republicans will emerge stronger. I’m pleased with both Mike Pence and Joe Barton who have joined me in this race for Republican leader. Mike is a great guy, a rock solid conservative who has shown his commitment to conservative principles and to our party, and I’m happy to see Joe Barton enter the race as well. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good sign that we’re basically all on the same page with brining our party back to the basics. In my letter when I announced my candidacy for Republican leader, I talked about my experiences in the early nineties. Instead of being content with staying in the minority, we set out to change things in a big way, whether it was helping to expose the House bank scandal, the House restaurant scandal, or the House post office scandal. In 1994 my involvement in developing the visions that led to The Contract of America, which has been a central theme of this race and my race for majority leader back in January. One of the secrets of the Contract’s success is that we recognized the things that unite Republicans across the spectrum, tax cuts, spending tax payers’ dollars wisely, ethics and accountability, or reforming government are also strongly supported by the American people.

I think if we want our majority back in 2008, Republicans need to get back to the basics and rededicate ourselves to the reform mindset that put us in the majority twelve years ago. We need rebuild the Republican coalition by focusing on conservative ideas that win broad based support, not just among House members but among the American people. It’s something I’ve said time and time again: Good policy equals good politics. As the Republican leader I’m going to manage policy development to contrast our philosophy of limited government and personal responsibility with that of the big-spending, tax-raising House Democrats. I think together we’ll produce the next generation of great Republican ideas while always adhering to our core principles of smaller, smarter, less intrusive federal government. We’ll aggressively sell these solutions inside and outside the beltway using traditional and new media and our network of friends and allies around the country. It’s going to be hard work and no one leader can do this, but I think working together as a team we can get it done. I think we also need to work to prevent [not audible] and punish corruption and ethics violations. I think the existing ethics committee process has to be faster, and we need to give it some teeth. But more on the point, I’m simply not going to tolerate ethical misconduct amongst our members. The Republican leader is going to need to hold every Democrat accountable for their promises, their behavior, and their policy. I think the leader, [not audible] in fairness for all House Republican members when it comes to committee assignment, resources, and during the legislation process, I think the leader needs to look into every corner of every Democrat in our district, to help recruit candidates to win back the majority, and to ensure that our candidates have the resources that they’re going to compete and win.

In short, the job of the Republican leader in the minority is going to be to hold the job for as short as time as possible. I think that my collective experiences in the House, as a backbencher in the minority, as the co-authors of The Contract of America, as the House Republican conference chairman, chairman of the educational workforce committee, and my short time as House majority leader, I think all of these have given me the perspective and experience our conference needs in order to lead this effort. Listen, I was in the minority once and I hated it. I know how we got out of the wilderness in the mid nineties; I know how we built a majority that delivered reforms that changed American history. I think that we can do it again; as a matter of fact, I know we can do it again. If Republicans honor me with their vote, I’m going to lead the way. So with that, feel free to fire away and I have no doubt that you will.

Question One of the points that has been made is that to return to the same leadership back to the House leadership sends a message to the American people and Republican rank and file that this is business as usual. We need to put new window dressings on the place, but basically no new real changes need to be made. In a vacuum, perhaps, things will be different, but changing leadership in the wake of what’s happened might be a good message and a good move to the people. What do you have to say to that?

Congressman Boehner: I think the what the American people care about are the core principles that Republicans believe in. They want a smaller, less costly, more accountable Federal government. They want to see a Republicans stand up and continue to reduce taxes and fight the Democrats when they want to raise taxes, hold down spending when the Democrats want to increase spending. What we have to do is we have to deliver for the American people. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to be on their minds as they vote in the 2008 election.

Question I was noticing that Drudge has a headline that Congressman Kucinich is calling to cut all funds for Iraq; the only way we can get out. How are the House Republicans going to stop that because there’s obviously, at least House Democrats think they have the ability. And apparently Murtha was just on MSNBC a few minutes ago and said that he has the votes to become House majority leader. Any thoughts on that?

Congressman Boehner: Well to deal with the first question, I do not believe that votes exist in the House to stop funding our effort in Iraq. I believe that House Republicans would be united in opposing and, quite frankly, I believe there are a lot of Democrats that would oppose that and the fact that the author is Dennis Kucinich will help unify Republicans and many Democrats in opposing it. On the second point, the Democrats are going to have to fight there fight over there. There’s a lot of things that are said in leadership races that are spun, hyped. I think most of you who I’ve dealt with in your world know me as a straight shooter so I’m not going to comment on Murtha.

Question Can you tell us what the House Republican caucus thinks should be done in Iraq. [not audible] We know where the Democrats are headed, but where to the Democrats want to take this?

Congressman Boehner: I think all of us our concerned about the increase of violence that we’ve seen over the last several months and to some extent the lack of progress in securing Baghdad and bringing safer conditions there. I think that the President has done the right thing, working with Prime Minister Maliki to make it clear that the Iraqis themselves are going to have to step up and do more. They’re going to need to make some decisions that they’ve been able to avoid thus far, and I think that’s a step in the right direction. We’re going to have a new Secretary of Defense; we’ve got the Baker-Hamilton Report coming.

Our members understand what I understand: We have no choice to win. If we don’t win, we will see a rock tumble; we’ll see the terrorists in control. They’ll have the funding from the Iraqi oil fields to wreak more havoc on the Western World and specifically on the United States. In addition to that, we’ll embolden every terrorist in every corner of the world and increase the likelihood that they’ll be able to bring more people to their cause. And frankly the inverse is true too. When we win in Iraq, we will cripple their ability to recruit new people to their cause, and let’s never forget that Iraq is the central front in our war with the terrorists and if we weren’t fighting them there, we’d be fighting them here. Winning is the only option, and I believe House Republicans believe strongly in that. I believe with the report coming out, a new Secretary of Defense, and the administration clearly concerned that this has not gone as well as people liked will spur us into a plan to succeed.

Question How do you see your colleagues in Congress getting informed about radical Islam, where it comes from, what its intents are?

Congressman Boehner: Well, we do have some members of our conference, mostly on the international relations committee, who’ve been very helpful in terms of helping people understand with their roots in Islamic fundamentalism. There are a number of lectures that come up around The Hill where members tend to come up; the administration, the State Department, will tend to sponsor these. And then there’s a lot of member conversation. This is the issue. This is the number one issue in the election because this is the number one issue being talked about in the country. Like any issue on The Hill, if you’re not directly engaged in it, there’s an awful lot of sharing of information for members who are.

Question While we’re on the subject of information flow, do you read any of the new media; and if so, which media do you read, which blogs or which podcasts do you listen to? When you bring up your browser, what do you look at every day?

Congressman Boehner: Well I’m usually reading newspapers. Most of what I get from the blog world, I get from my staff in a packet of information every day. They’re reading these blogs; they’re downloading information for me to give me a feel of what’s being said out there.

Question With respect a lot of the scandals we've dealt with in the last couple of years, what are your specific proposals for changing things in the House? I realize that things are a little different now than they were then, but as far as trying to prevent some of these things from happening again, what are your specific proposals for fixing this?

Congressman Boehner: Well I'm going to suggest that the earmark that we did not get passed through the Senate that we enacted as a House rule is giant step in the right direction. It is though because, if you look at some of the members that have got themselves in trouble, they did it through the illicit use of earmarks, and not only in appropriation bills but possibly in authorization or tax bills as well. This earmark reform covers that. By requiring disclosure of these earmarks in any kind of a bill and having the author's name attached to them, just the talk of it has helped drive down the number of earmarks we've seen this year by some 37%. I think that it will drive down the number of earmarks in the future even further.

Secondly on the ethics process, I think we need a faster process. These things tend to drag, and drag, and drag because frankly they're done in a bipartisan way. Having a faster process, I think, will help. I think that the leader has a responsibility to intervene in some of these issues before someone's indicted. I read a lot just like all of you do. There's going to be conversations with people later on after these elections when it comes to putting all the members back on their committees. Some people are going to have to come to grips with what's being said out there. We have to find a way to intervene before these things get out of control. The committee ranking members now are going to have to do a better job of what's going into these bills. This is the responsibility of, well, at the time the chairman. I can tell you that the bills that came out of my committee when I was the committee chair, there was no single source grant programs to anyone. I did my best to police anything that was going on in any bill that I was moving. It's just another step of trying to intervene in this process before you have a big problem.

Question Across the blogosphere and among right wing pundits, there is a lot of dismay about Trent Lott being made a member of Senate leadership, thinking that sends out some of the wrong signals to America at large. Any comment on that?

Congressman Boehner: You know they had a close contest over there. Both Lamar and Trent were friends; I worked closely with both of them and I think both of them are capable and we'll see. I have to tell you, the thing about Trent that I've known for oh the 12 or 14 years that I've worked with him, is that he understands the rules of the Senate. He understands the backgrounds of all these members. If you look at the Senate rules, the Senate leaders have almost no power, except they know each other and Trent knows these members. In terms of understanding how to make something happen, how to stop things from happening, I think Trent has a great deal of experience in being able to do that.

Question A lot of people indicated that last Tuesday there were 3 individuals who basically lost a lot of steam in their possible bid for the Republican nomination for the 2008 presidential race and those would be: John McCain, Bill Frist, and George Allen. Someone pointed out that the problems those three people posed for themselves really do exemplify the problems that the GOP have today. 1.) Leaning to the middle to gain power but getting none. 2.) Being real [not audible] leadership and getting little done. 3.) Being savvy politicians who ran a terrible campaign. Do you think those are fair criticisms for what happened last week?

Congressman Boehner: I think that it's fair, but let's be honest about what happened out there last Tuesday. I've met with my share of consultants, pollsters, and yesterday met with the defeated members. It was not a pleasant experience. Before I presented myself to my colleagues to earn their vote, I felt it was my duty to sit down with those members who lost. When you talk to all of them, there was four issues that were out there: it was the Iraq war; it was how people felt about the President; it was the corruption and ethics issues here in Washington; and fourthly, it was the fact that Republicans have stepped all over their brand image. This is why I've been trying all year to get our colleagues back to the basics, trying to renew the spirit of '94 because it was clear to me over the last couple of years, as I watched from my committee chairmanship, what was happening. Whether it was holding the line on spending over the course of the year – you remember when the Senate passed an emergency supplemental spending bill that was $14 billion higher than the house? I made it clear that we would not consider that supplemental in the House if it spent $1 more than what the President asked for. And they tried everything in the world to get around it, but at the end of the day, we won that fight. We talked about earmark reform, and let me tell you, you all know some of the issues with the appropriators. Whether it was the lobby reform and ethics package earlier this year, whether it was earmark reform, or for that matter the budget, I'm the one who went in front of the all the members of the appropriation committee and stood up and fought for the principles we all believe in. What we've got to do is to continue to get ourselves back to the basics in fighting for smaller, less costly, more accountable federal government.