Video: One-on-one with John Boehner

  1. Transcript of: One-on-one with John Boehner

    MR. GREGORY: All right. We will leave it there for now. Thank you both very much for the perspective. The events in Egypt are creating anxious moments in Washington as leaders here consider how the shake-up in the Middle East affects vital interests in the region , from Egypt 's support for U.S. counterterror policy to its peace treaty with Israel . Republicans have raised doubts about the administration 's stance against Mubarak .

    FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): Now, I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't have sided with the protesters. But what message are we sending to countries around the world who are friends of ours that, when things get tough, we walk away?

    MR. GREGORY: How should leaders in Washington encourage reforms throughout the Middle East in light of what's happened in Egypt ? And back home, President Obama hosted the trio of House Republican leaders for lunch at the White House Wednesday. The common theme? Finding some areas for potential compromise.

    SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): It was a very good lunch, and we were able to find enough common ground , I think, to show the American people that we're willing to work on their behalf and, and willing to do it together.

    MR. GREGORY: But with the president's budget being released tomorrow, will both sides be able to work together on some issues, even as battle lines over spending and the deficit takes center stage? Joining me now, the speaker of the House , Representative John Boehner of Ohio . Mr. Speaker, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS .

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: David , it's good to be with you .

    MR. GREGORY: I want to talk about Egypt . This is a developing story. And you heard Rick Santorum , former senator, might run for president, voicing that view of some Republicans that we were hasty here and that the United States walked away from a stalwart ally, and we don't really know what the consequences will be. Is that your view?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Well, Egypt 's been a strong ally of the United States for the last 30 years. And this is clearly a very complex situation. But when people are crying out for freedom, when they're crying out for democracy , I think our country has a responsibility to listen.

    MR. GREGORY: And do you think President Obama did it efficiently, effectively?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I think they've handled what is a very difficult situation about as well as it could be handled.

    MR. GREGORY: The question now is what happens next? Will the United States stand by Democratic movements sweeping the Middle East ? And should we?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I believe that we should always listen to those who are crying out for freedom, crying out for democracy . What we should not tolerate are those who want to push some radical ideology to take control of those governments. And I think that's the real concern of the administration and, frankly, all of us on the Hill .

    MR. GREGORY: How do you deal with that? Is that what worries you about Egypt ?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Well, the conversations with the opposition parties, those in the streets, has been under way for weeks. Those conversations, clearly, are going to speed up so that there can be some orderly transition to a democratically elected government in Egypt .

    MR. GREGORY: What about democracy ? There is no Arab democracy right now. What makes you think that Egypt could become the first?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Just watch what's happened on the streets over the last 18 days. It was the, it was the people. You know, I believe that freedom is a God-given right. And I believe that, after all of these years, the people who have been oppressed, the people who have, have not had economic freedom , have an -- had an opportunity for growth had finally had enough.

    MR. GREGORY: What about the intelligence community here in America ? Are you satisfied with the job they've done in assessing the threat coming from this region , assessing the turmoil in this region ? And do you think there are problems with how they're going to assess it as we move forward?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Well, I think what happened in Egypt , what happened in Tunisia , has surprised everyone, including our intelligence officials. And so I think there's going to have to be a reassessment of why, why, why didn't we have a better feel for this?

    MR. GREGORY: You were disappointed?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I wouldn't say that. I was surprised. And I think they were surprised.

    MR. GREGORY: But is that a concern in a post 9/11 world that the intelligence community could be surprised about the shifting sands there?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Again, the -- this is a very complex situation. It happened very quickly. And it really gives you an idea of the impact of digital media today, not only here in the United States , but around the world.

    MR. GREGORY: Let me turn back home to the budget battles -- something that you've been right in the middle of as well, of course, this week -- and take you back, as we sequence this out, to the Pledge to America and the promise that you and other Republicans made in the course of the campaign. This is what it said, "We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre- bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt." Republicans assumed power in the House and that was not actually what happened. You didn't reach that $100 billion threshold initially, and there were some real concerns among some of your new members. The tea party folks, other freshman

    conservatives -- and these were some of the headlines that we've been seeing recently: " Tea party yanks G.O.P. leash on spending cuts." The Financial Times , "Republican leaders struggle to rein in conservative members." Will you fulfill that pledge at $100 billion?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: We will. And, and while we believe that we've met our commitment that we made in the Pledge to America , I said there's no limit to the amount of money that our members want to cut. And I 've also committed to my colleagues that we ought to have an open process. And while we've instructed our Appropriations Committee to go meet that pledge, some of our members wanted more. Fine. We -- and this week we were able to come successfully to an agreement to cut $100 billion of spending from those seven months remaining in the, in this fiscal year.

    MR. GREGORY: It's going to be painful, though. The New York Times editorialized this week this way, "Beyond reason on the budget . After two years of raging at ... Obama 's spending plans,

    House Republican leaders have finally revealed their real vision of small government: tens of billions in ideologically driven cuts to job training, environmental protection , disease control , crime protection, dozens of other critical functions that only the government can perform. In all, they want more than $32 billion in cuts below current spending packed into the next seven months. They would be terribly damaging to a frail recovery and, while spending reductions must be part of long-term deficit control , these are the wrong cuts, to the wrong programs, at the wrong time." Is this too much in this economy ?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: David , David , we're broke. What's really dangerous is if we continue to do nothing and allow the status quo to stay in place. When are we going to get serious about cutting spending? And our members want to, to take this leap forward because it has to happen, and it needs to start now.

    MR. GREGORY: But, Mr. Speaker, if you are serious about cutting spending, as you just said, wouldn't you deal with the biggest culprits in the budget ? Because you're not doing that. You're not dealing with...

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: It's all...

    MR. GREGORY: Hold on, you're not dealing with the military.

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: ...coming. It's all coming.

    MR. GREGORY: You're not dealing with entitlements. You're dealing with a small portion, about 16 percent of the budget .

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: This was the first step, and, as I've said, there are many steps to follow. There are some Defense spending cuts in this package. There are mandatory spending cuts that you'll see brought to the floor here in the coming weeks. You'll see our budget where, I've got to believe, we're going to deal with the entitlement problem . The president's asked us to increase the debt limit, and yet, he's going to present a budget tomorrow that will continue to destroy jobs by spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, let me just stop you there because there are a few things you said and I'd like to follow up on each of them. First of all, I think it's important for everybody to, to recognize that when you talk about spending cuts, you're talking about this fiscal year, which ends in September, which is what's called a continuing resolution to fund the government . The budget is in a separate battle , which will go, moving forward, just so we -- we're clear on the terms. But you met with the president this week. You talked about some areas of common ground . He's talking about making cuts in discretionary spending , freezing it at levels that would, he says, take $400 billion off the deficit in 10 years. Is there a collision course here, as he talks about additional investment in the economy as well? Or are you actually seeing some room for compromise on spending?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: It's time to cut spending. You know, the president wants to freeze domestic discretionary spending at existing levels. This is after, this is after all of the money that's been spent over the last two years. Locking in that level of spending is way too much. But I do think the voters last November made it clear that they want Washington to cut spending. And cutting spending will, in fact, help create a better environment for job creation in America . This morning, I sent a letter to President Obama signed by 150 economists that say that cutting spending now will help create a better environment so that we can begin to create jobs in our country . This is a critically important step if we're going to end the uncertainty and start to give investors and small business people the confidence to invest in our economy . I used to be a small businessman. I understand this. When you have all this uncertainty, you don't invest . If people begin to see us rein in out-of- control spending, it'll bring more confidence to business people and investment -- investors around the country , and then we'll begin to see better job creation in our country .

    MR. GREGORY: You talk about the debt limit that has to be raised, according to the administration , and that vote will take place. And you say, "We're not going to vote for that unless there are specific spending cuts that we get in response." If there is not a compromise on this, would you rule out a government shutdown as an appropriate response?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: David , our goal here is to reduce spending. Our goal is not to shut down the government . And I 'm hopeful that...

    MR. GREGORY: But would you rule it out?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I would hope that the Senate and the White House heard the same thing I've heard from the American people in last November's election, " It's time to cut spending."

    MR. GREGORY: Well, my -- a very precise question. Would you rule out a government shutdown if you can't see eye to eye?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Our goal is to reduce spending. It is not to shut down the government .

    MR. GREGORY: On entitlements, like Social Security , you said the retirement age should be raised, but you said you don't want to get into negotiating how that happens just now until the problem is better defined. Again, when it comes to leadership, when it comes to the need to, you know, have no limit on cutting, don't you think Americans understand what the problem with Social Security is? What will it take for you to join with the White House to make real reform to deal with this piece of the budget ?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: David , you may understand how big the problem is, I may understand how big it is, but most Americans have not been presented with just how big is the problem . And it's Social Security , it's Medicare , it's Medicaid . And I think it's incumbent on those leaders here in Washington , those of us to go out and help the American people understand how big the problem is. Once, once the American people begin to get their arms around the size of the problem , then and only then should we begin to lay out an array of possible solutions to have that conversation.

    MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about housing policy . This administration this week said ultimately the big government agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac , which guarantee 90 percent of the mortgages in this country , should be phased out of existence. Do you think it's realistic for the government to get out of the housing market ?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I think the government needs to get out of the housing market . When you look at the, the crisis that we have and the bailout, we've already spent $153 billion, and we'll probably spend at least that much more bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac . The president and the administration laid out some options for how to go forward. We all know what the options are. It's time to get serious about a plan to phase out Fannie and Freddie , return them to the private sector .

    MR. GREGORY: Who fills the gap? They, they prop up 90 percent of the mortgages in this country . Who fills the gap?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: And they...

    MR. GREGORY: There's no money out there to guarantee those mortgages.

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: And they, and they can do this as private companies . They don't need to have this implicit federal government guarantee.

    MR. GREGORY: You're willing to suffer the potential consequences, which is further cratering the housing market , if you privatize these companies?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: That won't -- the gap that's out there will be filled. Remember, the federal government started to build these organizations 40 and 50 years ago to collateralize mortgages in order to make mortgages more available. This was before the private sector had the ability to do it. The private sector can do this today. And Fannie and Freddie know how to do it. They can do it as private companies .

    MR. GREGORY: But the government has got to be there today, you would concede that. Given the fragility of the housing market , the federal government has got to be there to backstop it.

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Because the federal government failed in its obligations to have these institutions be sound, we, we're on the hook. And we're on the hook now for $153 billion. It will be well over $300 billion before we're out of it. But it's time to begin to transition to this activity to the private sector .

    MR. GREGORY: All right, we're going to take a break here. We'll come back. More with Speaker Boehner right after this break.

    MR. GREGORY: Coming up, more of my exclusive interview with House Speaker John Boehner after this brief commercial break.

    MR. GREGORY: Back now with more from Speaker of the House Boehner . Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on something that my colleague Brian Williams asked you about last -- this January, last month. He asked if you were willing to take on some members of your caucus who don't believe that the president was actually born in the United States . And this was a portion of your answer, I want to play it.

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: We're nothing more than a slice of America . And then people come with, regardless of party labels, they come with all kinds of beliefs and ideas. It's, it's the, the melting pot of America . It's not up to me to tell them what to think.

    MR. GREGORY: And, indeed, members of Congress speak publicly and are outspoken and will say what their views are. And sometimes they have an effect on what people believe around the country . And there was a -- something that caught my eye this week that was on Fox News on the Hannity program, a focus group with voters in Iowa led by Frank Luntz , the Republican strategist, and he had this exchange with them. I want to show it to you.

    Unidentified Woman #1: I believe that Barack Obama 's religious beliefs do govern his foreign policy .

    MR. FRANK LUNTZ: And what are his religious beliefs ?

    Woman #1: I believe that he is a Muslim.

    MR. LUNTZ: You do?

    Woman #1: Yes.

    Unidentified Woman #2: No.

    Unidentified Woman #3: Yes.

    Unidentified Man #1: Yes.

    MR. LUNTZ: How many of you believe that here?

    Unidentified Man #2: How many believe it?

    MR. LUNTZ: Wow. You believe he's a Muslim.

    Unidentified Man #3: Yes.

    MR. GREGORY: As the speaker of the House , as a leader, do you not think it's your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: David , it's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people . Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That's good enough for me. The president says he's a Christian. I accept him at his word.

    MR. GREGORY: But isn't that a little bit fast and loose? I mean, you are the leader in Congress and you're not standing up to obvious facts and saying, "These are facts. If you don't believe that, it's nonsense."

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I just outlined the facts as I understand them. I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian. I'll take him at his word. But, but...

    MR. GREGORY: But that kind of ignorance about whether he's a Muslim doesn't concern you?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can't -- it's not my job to tell them.

    MR. GREGORY: Why isn't it your job to stand up and say, "No, the facts are these"?


    MR. GREGORY: Didn't John McCain do that...

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I, I, I just did.

    MR. GREGORY: What you're saying, "It's good enough for me," is that really standing up and saying, for those who believe that or who would talk about that -- you had a member of Congress , you had a new tea party freshman who was out just yesterday speaking to conservatives, and he said, "I'm fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth, and I do have a birth certificate to prove it." That was Raul Labrador , a new -- a congressman from Idaho . Is that an appropriate way for your members to speak?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: The gentleman was, was trying to be funny, I would imagine. But remember something, it's not -- it really is not our job to tell the American people what to believe and what to think. There's a lot of information out there, people read a lot of things...

    MR. GREGORY: You shouldn't stand up to misinformation or stereotypes?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: ...but, but, but, but, but I've made clear what I believe the facts are.

    MR. GREGORY: But is, is it, is it because it weakens the president politically, it seeks to delegitimize him that you sort of want to let it stay out there?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: No. What I'm trying to do is to do my job. Our job is to focus on spending. We're spending too much money here in Washington . The president's going to outline this new budget tomorrow, that I outlined earlier, spends too much, borrows too much, and taxes too much. And the president wants to talk about winning the future. This isn't winning the future, it's spending the future.

    MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about something you said last June about the state of America . And, as a leader now, I want you to reflect on it. You said -- " Boehner said the [ tea party ] protests are emblematic of deep voter anger against Washington 's leaders." You were telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review . "'They're snuffing out the America that I grew up in,' Boehner said." What did you mean by that?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: They aren't. No, what I was talking about, the problems in Washington are snuffing out the future. If we don't get our arms around the spending, if we don't get our arms around the debt, the American dream that was available for you and me is not going to be available for our kids and grandkids.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. You say they, though. Are you meaning the leaders in Washington , Democrats are snuffing out the America you believe in?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I'm talking about the spending that's going on here in Washington .

    MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about some of the things you've had to deal with just this week in Congress . Former Congressman Christopher Lee , who resigned after posting some, some photos, answering something on, on Craigslist . This is not the picture he put there, we didn't want to put that up. But it was a, a picture without his shirt, communicating with a young woman via Craigslist . He resigned immediately. You talked to him about it. What did you tell him?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I, I -- conversations that I have with my colleagues are private, and I'm going to keep them that way.

    MR. GREGORY: But you made it very clear that that kind of behavior was not appropriate.

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I'm not going to divulge conversations that I have with my colleagues. The American people have the right and should expect the highest ethical standards from their members of Congress . I made this clear to my members going back four years ago, and I told them that I would hold them to the highest ethical standards, and I have.

    MR. GREGORY: So personal behavior, personal indiscretions are fair game when it comes to evaluating leadership and fitness for office?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I'm going to hold my members to a high standard .

    MR. GREGORY: Personal indiscretions, personal behavior...

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I'm going to hold my members to a high standard .

    MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about politics in 2012 . Do you think that the president can win re-election if unemployment is still around 8 percent?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I think it'll be difficult. The president has been on this spending spree for the last two years, called for this giant expansion of the federal government , claiming it was going to help our country . And the fact is it hasn't. And if unemployment or the perception that unemployment isn't significantly lower, I think he's going to have a very difficult time.

    MR. GREGORY: What about the Republican field right now? Different, different circumstance here, nobody's really leaping into the race. Do you think there's a front-runner?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I do not. I've never seen a more wide open race for the Republican nomination. But we all know that nature abhors a vacuum . Candidates, I expect, will continue to come forward. And those who vote in Republican primaries around the country will have an opportunity to choose one of them.

    MR. GREGORY: So what are the qualities or the characteristics of the nominee that it will take to beat President Obama ?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I think we're going to need someone who can paint a vision of the future that takes into consideration that we need a smaller, less costly and more accountable government in Washington , D.C. The American people need -- the American dream needs to be renewed. What you and I -- the opportunities you and I had growing up need to be available for all Americans . That means that we need a smaller government . We need a, a government that allows the American people to keep more of what they earn so they can invest in themselves, their family, their business, their communities.

    MR. GREGORY: But the tea party , would you argue, has a big role in the primary process, certainly bigger than we've seen in the past?

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: I believe that those activists around the country are going to involve themselves in a big way. And, and we should be happy about this. There are more Americans engaged in our government today than at any time in our lifetime. This is healthy for our country .

    MR. GREGORY: Speaker Boehner , as always, thank you very much . Appreciate you being here.

    SPEAKER BOEHNER: Thank you.

John Boehner
William B. Plowman  /  AP
House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks about the 2012 budget on NBC's "Meet the Press" in Washington on Sunday.
updated 2/14/2011 8:59:48 AM ET 2011-02-14T13:59:48

House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday he doesn't see a front-runner so far in the large field of potential GOP candidates for the White House in 2012.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Boehner said he's never seen a more wide-open race for his party's nomination. He said Republicans need to find someone who can paint a vision of the future that includes a smaller, less costly and more accountable government.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says he's looking for "the most conservative person who is electable" — and that person hasn't emerged.

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Graham said the former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney probably is the front-runner among traditional candidates.

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Graham told CNN's "State of the Union" that the GOP has "a tall task," but that he thinks President Barack Obama is beatable.

'It's not my job to tell the American people what to think'
Boehner also told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that Americans have a right to think what they want to think, even when they're wrong about Obama's citizenship and his religion.

Video: Boehner: ‘I believe the president is a Christian’ (on this page)

Some people believe that Obama, a native of Hawaii, was actually born outside the U.S. or in some other way is not a natural-born citizen eligible to be president. There is also a persistent belief among some that Obama, a Christian, is actually a Muslim.

When the host of "Meet the Press" asked Boehner whether he, as speaker of the House, had a responsibility to "stand up to that kind of ignorance," Boehner told David Gregory: "It's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people."

Boehner continued: "Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That's good enough for me. The president says he's a Christian. I accept him at his word." He later called those "the facts" of Obama's background.

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Gregory asked, "But that kind of ignorance, about whether he's a Muslim, doesn't concern you?"

"The American people have the right to think what they want to think," Boehner replied. "I can't — it's not my job to tell them."

Boehner denied that he is willing to let those misperceptions remain because they weaken and delegitimize Obama.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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