Texas voters decide if they want Tom DeLay back in the House, but will the stench of the Abramoff scandal rub off on him and other Republicans in upcoming elections? Tonight, an exclusive interview with DeLay‘s replacement, House Majority Leader John Boehner.
Congressman John Boehner of Ohio is the newly elected leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, 'HARDBALL': I am very proud of anybody who takes on a job like you have taken on. It‘s so great.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: It‘s a big job.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a big job. Let me ask you about this ports deal. Where is it going to end up in the end after all the arguing? Are we going to have the emirates run the ports or not?
BOEHNER: Well, I think there are a number of reviews that are underway in the Congress. We‘re having our hearings, but there‘s a lot of angst. I think the administration has handled this poorly. I don‘t think the right people have been consulted in the process, and at the end of the day, it‘s beginning to appear that Congress may want to speak to this issue. But I do think that in the short term, we‘ve got to let the committees do their work.
MATTHEWS: Had this been run up the flagpole, would Congress have pulled it down?
BOEHNER: I think so.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this line-item veto. I‘ve been hearing about this for 30 years, the line-item veto. I wouldn‘t think it would be very popular with the legislative branch because it takes away your leverage. You have to give the president the opportunity to—oh, I like this. I don‘t really like that. I like this. Don‘t you lose out on a line-item veto?
BOEHNER: Well, I think there‘s a legitimate role for the Congress to play. Under the constitution, we‘re charged with setting spending levels, but I do think giving the president an enhanced precision authority on a line-item authority that‘s legitimate, does in fact work.
Where the president can point out these revisions, these reductions in spending, send them back to the Hill where we get to vote on them. I think it would help balance the process.
MATTHEWS: Then you have the final word.
BOEHNER: We have the final word.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he would go with a deal like that?
BOEHNER: I think he would, because it does enhance his power somewhat more than what he has to do.
MATTHEWS: What is it about second terms? Why do they always blow it, the second term of every presidency?
BOEHNER: Well, I think there‘s fatigue that sets in. You have got a president who‘s been there four years, gets reelected, and this president has really dealt with a lot of more difficult issues than most presidents - than a whole myriad of presidents.
Just think about this 9-11, war in Afghanistan, a war in Iraq and a whole port-security issue, the largest natural disaster to ever hit the United States. I was down there last weekend. These are big challenges, and it‘s not surprising that the president is going to take some hits.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re a loyal Republican.
BOEHNER: I‘m very loyal. I‘m very loyal, and I like the president.
MATTHEWS: But OK. But do you see a pattern here, Katrina, a couple days late to act. And then he got down there. He‘s been down there 11 times now already, but a little late, a couple days late. The Harriet Miers thing, an odd appointment for the Supreme Court. Somebody from the White House staff yanked that baby back after two days of fire. The shooting incident, still seems a little murky to me about the president‘s role in that.
BOEHNER: Oh, there is no issue there, Chris.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think he should have gotten a call from the veep?
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s go back to this ports issue. You don‘t see a pattern of being slow off the pad?
BOEHNER: No. No, listen, any administration, they‘re going to do a lot of good things and they‘re going to have their mistakes as well. And I don‘t fault the president. Running this operation downtown, the administration is a very big job, lots of moving parts. So mistakes are going to happen.
Having been down in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast the end of last week, when you begin to see the enormity of the storm, the enormity of the damage, if we had done everything right—I don‘t think there‘s any way to prepare for a natural disaster as large as this was.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the next president. Have you started thinking about who you want to lead after Bush?
BOEHNER: Well, there are a lot of people out there contending, a lot of good people. George Allen and I have been friends for 20 years. He‘s a good guy. But a lot of other people, and I think it‘s as wide open a Republican primary as we‘ve had in my lifetime.
And so, I think it‘s going to be a matter of which of these candidates can prove themselves. And which can put the coalition together to win.
MATTHEWS: Who—what do you think is the strongest attribute the next Republican president should have if it‘s a Republican?
BOEHNER: Straight talk. The one thing about President Bush is that he means what he says and he says what he means. And I think the American people appreciate someone looking them in the eye and telling them the truth as they see it.
And so I think the next contender on our side has to be someone who can relate to the American people, look them in the eye, and tell them the truth, even when it hurts at times.
MATTHEWS: Is John McCain a regular Republican?
BOEHNER: Yes, he‘s a regular Republican.
MATTHEWS: He is?
MATTHEWS: You consider him a regular guy, a regular Republican...
BOEHNER: A regular Republican.
MATTHEWS: ...who goes with the party, he‘s a party guy?
BOEHNER: Well, now let‘s not get carried away. We all know that - well, we all know that John McCain will have his moments of independence, which is part of his...
MATTHEWS: But do you trust him as a Republican? But I know I hear it all the time, that real Republicans, not people who vote Republican necessarily, do more than that. They are active in the party, show up, organize locally, that they think McCain is kind of not one of them.
BOEHNER: Well because he has these periods of independence. You know, some people look at him and begin to wonder, boy, is he one of us?
BOEHNER: But I‘ve known John McCain...
MATTHEWS: You‘ve never asked yourself that?
BOEHNER: No, I‘ve known John McCain for 15 years, good guy and will be a serious contender in this.
MATTHEWS: If you see Hillary coming, if it looks like she‘s built up a head of steam and looks like she can win this thing, the Democratic nomination...
BOEHNER: Well, now wait a minute. If ands and buts were candies and nuts, every day would be Christmas. Listen, I don‘t think she can win. And there are a lot of Democrats around the country who don‘t think she can win the general. And as a result, you know, there are a lot of Democrats, as you well know, who are wondering, well, why would we want to nominate someone who can‘t win?
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes you hear it everywhere. People will say—you hear Dukakis in a dress. You hear all kinds of lines like that. But the question I am asking you is do you have to adjust your defenses and offenses with the probability of running against her since she is the front runner?
BOEHNER: No. No.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t need to run someone who can beat her then?
BOEHNER: The best defense is a good offense.
MATTHEWS: So don‘t pick somebody who can beat Hillary.
BOEHNER: And we need someone who can stand up and represent our party, take our case to the American people, has a party of reform, a party of ideas and frankly, a party of vision, which will far surpass anyone the Democrats can put up.
MATTHEWS: What‘s her biggest handicap, that she‘s married to Bill, or she‘s a liberal or she‘s a woman?
BOEHNER: I think the eight years she spent in the White House along with her husband, just put labels on her, that you just can‘t erase.
MATTHEWS: She‘s a liberal.
BOEHNER: How about national health care? Hello? Hello?
MATTHEWS: Well, she‘s backing the war.
BOEHNER: And at the same time, alienating people who could be voting for her in the Republican—or in the Democratic primary. But I think if you go back to Hillary care in 1993 and 1994, says it all. It set a view of people‘s minds of here‘s a lady, who wants to nationalize health care in America. Now, most people know about national health care in Canada, they know about it in Europe, they‘re not very impressed about it and they don‘t want to hear it.
MATTHEWS: Is she a socialist?
BOEHNER: No. I‘ve worked with her on a number of issues on the Congress.
MATTHEWS: On the issue of health care is she a socialist?
BOEHNER: She would be to the left of most people I know.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but not a socialist?
BOEHNER: I wouldn‘t go that far.
MATTHEWS: You wouldn‘t go that far? That stops you.
BOEHNER: I don‘t like the labeling of people.
MATTHEWS: Well you called her a liberal, you called it Hillary care.
BOEHNER: Well she‘s liberal, she‘s left, but I don‘t want to call her a socialist.
MATTHEWS: Could she carry Ohio in the general?
BOEHNER: I don‘t think so.
MATTHEWS: Who could beat her?
MATTHEWS: Congressman, I try to think about all the times about why people vote the way and my hunch is that the strongest thing your party has going for you in congressional district after congressional district, right across the country, is tax relief. You‘re the party that cuts taxes and as long as you‘re seen that way, you win elections. Is that true?
BOEHNER: I think taxes do help, and there‘s no question that the tax relief we‘ve provided over the last 10 years has helped provide a stimulus to keep this economy growing and employing more people. And I think making the tax cuts permanent, that were proposed by President Bush in 2001 and enacted by Congress, are critically important to spur more investment in our economy, create more jobs and to put more money in the American people‘s pockets.
MATTHEWS: Can you do it? Can you get this bill passed and signed? Forget signed, can you get it passed?
BOEHNER: That‘s the hard part. The Senate—we can pass it in the House. The hard part‘s getting it passed in the Senate.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me talk about a tricky issue that does hurt you someplace and helps you other place, abortion rights. Do you think it‘s good for the country to have the South Dakota bill coming? It‘s been signed by the governor, it‘s going to outlaw abortion basically, except for the life of the mother, it‘s coming right back to the Supreme Court. What do you think of that?
BOEHNER: Well this issue‘s been in our country for a long time. I happen to have 11 brothers and sisters and I‘m sure it wasn‘t convenient for my mother to have 12 of us, but I‘m sure glad she did. And the issue is going to be debated. I think South Dakota has a right to do whatever they want to do and clearly it‘s going to going to get to the Supreme Court and they‘re going to have to make some decision.
MATTHEWS: Is it good for the Republican Party, clean and simple, to outlaw abortion? Does that help you or put you more in jeopardy?
BOEHNER: Chris, the issue is not about the Republican Party, the issue is about a very divisive issue in our country. It‘s been divisive for 30 years now, it‘s going to continue to be divisive and in the case here where South Dakota has spoken, you know, it‘s a state.
This is their state legislature, their governor signed a bill, it will work its way through the court process, and as it does, we‘ll continue to have this debate. But Republicans by and large, support the right to life, and I‘m glad they do.
MATTHEWS: But you‘re better of with the issue. You have the issue now—you‘re better off with legalized abortion because then you can argue against it.
BOEHNER: It‘s not about a political issue. For me, this is part of who I am. It‘s not some convenient position I took somewhere along the line.
MATTHEWS: But it‘s the party platform, it‘s political as hell. The Democrats have one position, the Republicans have another. It‘s a political issue.
BOEHNER: Yes, but not every Republican supports the right to life and not every Democrat supports abortion. This is—it‘s not quite a party issue. Now...
MATTHEWS: ... Except in every presidential election it is.
BOEHNER: Well every presidential election becomes one.
MATTHEWS: What about Iran? Should you—most voters say don‘t attack Iraq—Iran rather. We‘re already in Iraq, don‘t attack Iran, we have to find diplomatic and economic means to prevent them from going nuclear.
BOEHNER: I think the diplomacy that we‘ve been engaged in for the last several years continues to work and the fact this we have our partners in Europe working with us on diplomacy, will help us get there. And I do think that economic sanctions as well may tighten the noose a little bit around their necks, and supporting democracy movements within Iran is also very giving because our fight‘s not with the Iranian people, it‘s with the leaders of their country.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, well said. Thanks for joining us here, Majority Leader John Boehner.
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