Nightly News   |  January 06, 2011

Boehner: 'I'm just a regular guy with a big job'

In an exclusive interview with Rep. John Boehner, his first as the new Speaker of the House, Boehner insists that being second in the line of succession behind the president does not change the fact that he's just a small businessman who's come to Washington to restore America's faith in Congress. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> and good evening from the piece of real estate they call the speaker's balcony on the west front of the u.s. capitol building . this was the first day of business for the new congress, and the new speaker. and the first order of business was the first time ever reading of the u.s. constitution on the floor of the house . it began after some maneuvering by democrats, but in the end, both parties took part, reading different portions.

>> we, the people, of the united states , in order to form a more perfect union.

>> neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment of crime, the parties have been duley convicted, within the united states .

>> no person, except a natural born citizen or a citizen of the united states at the time of the adoption of this constitution shall be eligible to be office of president --

>> except obama !

>> we're going to have more on that disruption in just a moment. first, though, we begin with our interview with the new speaker of the house , republican john boehner of ohio. his first interview as speaker on his very first full day on the job, insisting to us, as he did in his speech yesterday, that even though he woke up this morning second in the line of succession behind the president, he hasn't changed.

>> i'm just a regular guy with a big job. i'm humbled to have the opportunity that i have to be the speaker of the house and have the confidence of my colleagues and the american people . but it's a humbling experience.

>> what one thing are you willing to go down in flames on? what one issue is so important to you that if you knew in advance you would make the deal you would be a short-term two-year speaker of the house ?

>> i believe my number one responsibility is to restore the institution of the united states house of representatives . the american people know that congress is broken. and it is broken.

>> your speech yesterday seemed personal. i noted a lot of conciliatory language in it. but there was that expression " scar tissue ." you said there's been a lot of scar tissue build-up. elaborate, what did you mean?

>> partisanship, the heated rhetoric from each side of the aisle. all of that, in my description, is the scar tissue that's built up over the last 15 or 20 years. and i think that by having a more open process, a more open house that allows members of both parties to participate in the debate, offer amendments, i think over time that will begin to melt the scar tissue that's built up between the two parties.

>> and yet respectfully, the first thing you're doing after the reading of the constitution, is bringing so-called obama care, the obama health plan up for a vote. it's been called a stunt, because it can pass the republican house, but it's certain to fail, if not in the democratic senate, but it won't survive a veto. why spend the valuable time of your beloved house of representatives that way?

>> you have to understand that in my opinion, obama care is the biggest job killer we have in america today. it's a weight over every employer that we have. there by requiring them to hold back their willingness to hire people. secondly, i believe that obama care will ruin the best health care delivery system in the world, and then thirdly, i think it will bankrupt our country.

>> two points. what do you say to those who would disagree that it was the best health care delivery system in the world, because they, by the millions, weren't getting it? and second, where are you getting the notion, as you said again this morning, the american people want it repealed. our exit poll was 48%-47%, very evenly split on that.

>> i've talked to tens of thousands of people across the country last year as i was out helping my candidates. i've been from one corner of my district to another, and it's pretty clear to me that this law ought to be repealed. the job killing aspects, the cost of it, and what it's going to do to the delivery. while yes, not every american had fair access to affordable health insurance , every american had access to the best health care delivery system in the world.

>> i'm curious as to how much responsibility you feel specifically because of something that happened this morning. during the reading of the constitution, congressman frank palone was reading a portion of the document, interrupted by someone who heckled from within the chamber. it was to express doubt over the president's american citizenship . provided you believe the president is an american citizen , you've got 12 members co-sponsoring legislation that does about the same thing, it expresses doubt. would you be willing to say, this is a distraction? i've looked at it to my satisfaction, let's move on?

>> the state of hawaii has said that president obama was born there. that's good enough for me.

>> would you be willing to say that message to the 12 members in your caucus who seem to either believe otherwise, or are willing to express doubt and have co-sponsored legislation?

>> brian, when you come to the congress of the united states , there are 435 of us. we're nothing more than a slice of america . people come regardless of party labels, they come with all kinds of beliefs and ideas. it's the melting pot of america . it's not up to me to tell them what to think.

>> do you consider the defense budget sacred?

>> absolutely not.

>> do you consider the homeland security budget sacred?

>> no!

>> what goes? name a program right now that we could do without.

>> i don't think i have one off the top of my head, but there is no part of this government that should be sacred.

>> do you think we belong in afghanistan, still to this day?

>> oh, i do, i do. as expensive as it is in terms of lives, and in terms of our treasury, denying safe haven to the terrorists who want to kill it is critically, critically important to the long-term security of our country. when you think about our responsibility as a government, i think the first responsibility that we have is to make sure that there is security in our country.

>> the new man in charge in the house. a portion of our conversation with speaker boehner. later in the broadcast, the conversation turns personal. we'll talk about his emotions, even his smoking and his life leading up to this big