House Majority Leader John Boehner: ‘We’re Going to Do Just Fine’
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R.-Ohio) took over the No. 2 job in the House of Representatives in February and has no intention of surrendering it to Democrats after the November 7 elections.
Over the past weeks, Boehner has spent time on the campaign trail helping fellow Republicans and sharing the party’s message on national TV and radio programs—all in hopes of preserving the Republican majority in the House.
Today he spoke to HumanEvents.com about the House GOP’s accomplishments on immigration and earmark reform, the dangers of a Democrat-led House and his Rep. Duncan Hunter’s decision to seek the presidency in 2008. Boehner also addressed the pending November 15 leadership elections for House Republicans.
A transcript of the interview is printed below. An audio version is also available.
Last week Newt Gingrich, who writes a weekly column for HumanEvents.com, said momentum is beginning to shift toward Republicans. In your travels and campaigning, why are you confident Republicans will retain control of Congress?
All of our members who are in tough races have known for well over a year that they were going to have a tough race. And they have been preparing for this race. They have raised their money. They put their campaign teams together. And I think Tom Reynolds did a very good job of really coaching members to get themselves in a solid position.
And so, we are ready for the battle. As I traveled last week through Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, I began to see the same thing. It was as if Republican voters were starting to come home.
Now, shifting to the business of the House—looking back to September when you were in session—when you returned after Labor Day, virtually no one expected action on immigration-related issues. How were able to approve the 700-mile border fence and why did you make it a priority?
We decided almost a year ago that border security was the first step in real immigration reform. And our bill, that passed last November, made it clear that securing the border and enforcing the law was the first priority. And then all during the spring and the summer, we stuck to our guns.
You’ll remember when the Senate passed their bill and the President was talking about comprehensive immigration reform, we said, “No.” We took hits from every different direction. But I think our members are in touch with our voters, and our voters are saying, “Yes, secure the borders and enforce the law.”
And so after our hearings in July and August—35 hearings, 13 states, a number of different committees—we decided that sending this fence authorization bill through the House was a step in the right direction. And frankly, much to our surprise, the Senate, which had no intention of taking it up, decided to proceed as well. I was proud to be at the White House last week when the President signed this bill into law.
Local issues do play such an important role in all of these races across the country. But is immigration one of those issues where you feel it’s something that affects each and every member of Congress?
I do. You’d be surprised that immigration is an issue in virtually every competitive race that we have. And they could be on the border states [or] they could be as far away as Minnesota. People are concerned about the borders. We’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple of years, but we’ve got a long way to go. The Secure Fence Act was another step in the right direction.
Bloggers on the left and the right were instrumental in pushing for the passage of the Coburn-Obama bill to shed light on government contracts and grants. How can you build off this momentum in terms of increasing government transparency?
At the same time they were moving their bill—to bring this transparency with regard to contracts and grants—I was pushing through the House earmark reform that would require every earmark, whether in an appropriations bill, an authorization bill or a tax bill, to be singled out in the committee report and to have a name attached to it.
This threat of this coming all year has helped us reduce earmarks this year by 37%. And I believe that this new transparency and accountability in the earmark process will lead to less numbers of earmarks and will help us spend taxpayer dollars more wisely.
Ever since you were elected majority leader, you’ve made earmark reform one of your top priorities. Why is it so important to you?
I’ve never asked for one. I told my constituents in 1990 that if they thought my job was to come to Washington and rob the federal treasury on their behalf, they were voting for the wrong guy. And maybe it was not the right thing to say, but I believed it then, and frankly, I believe it today.
There are many worthwhile earmarks that are in bills and there are reasons for them to be there. But if a member is not willing to have it disclosed, and not willing to have his or her name attacked to it, they shouldn’t expect the taxpayers to pay for this earmark.
I just think it’s a practice that’s out of control and needs to be brought under control.
Some conservatives have voiced frustration with spending under President Bush and this Republican Congress—as well as measures like the No Child Left Behind Act, which you sponsored, and Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. Are you worried that the base might stay at home in protest?
I don’t believe that. When you look at our track record on spending this year, remember we eliminated, or rejected, I should say, $45 billion in new Democrat spending this year alone. And over the last four years, Republicans have blocked efforts by Democrats to increase spending by some $106 billion.
We’ve cut 95 programs, for a savings of nearly $4 billion this year. And this builds on last year’s efforts, when House Republicans successfully terminated 53 programs for a savings of $3.5 billion.
If you remember, we rejected $14 billion in unnecessary and non-emergency spending that was added by the Senate to the supplemental spending bill. And when the Senate passed their bill, I said we would not spend $1 more than what the President asked for. And at the end of the day, that’s what we did.
We passed the Line-Item Veto [Act]. I think we approved a fiscally responsible budget. These efforts, along with earmark reform, have been my efforts to try to bring Republicans back to the solid principles that we all believe in.
Can you tell me why Americans would be worse off under a House led by Nancy Pelosi?
Well, let’s just look at her record. She voted against all of the Bush tax cuts. These tax cuts have helped us bring back the economy, have given us the great economy we have today. We’ve created 6.6 million new jobs over the last four years. We’ve got a record there to be proud of. She and most Democrats voted no.
Secondly, she voted against the USA Patriot Act—she and most Democrats—that has helped give law enforcement the tools to track down terrorists here in America.
Thirdly, she and House Democrats voted against the military tribunals bill that allows us to interrogate known terrorists that we’ve captured, and to allow them to be tried in a military tribunal.
And lastly, she and House Democrats voted against the NSA surveillance program that allows us to listen in to known terrorists who are calling the United States. And I think most Americans would want to know, Who are they calling? And what are they talking about?
These are important issues. And let me add another one. When it came to the Secure Fence Act, she and most House Democrats voted no. On our immigration reform bill, she and most Democrats voted no. I think they want to stand down on the border with open arms and say, “Come on over.”
So there are serious issues that define the differences between the two parties. And at the end of the day, I believe conservatives will see these differences and show up and vote on Election Day.
If you listen to the pollsters and the mainstream media outlets, they have Republicans losing seats in the House—some up to 35 seats, they’re predicting. Do you have any predictions about what’s going to happen on November 7?
Rob, if we mobilize all of our resources and mobilize our voters to the polls on Election Day, we’re going to do just fine. There’s no question we have a very difficult political environment. First, we knew this when George Bush was re-elected in ’04—that the midterm election for the President’s party during the sixth year of that presidency, the average loss for the last 150 years is 41 seats. We knew history was working against us. And so, we’ve worked hard.
But I really do believe, as I get around the country, there are some open seats where we’ve got some difficulty. We’ve got a couple incumbents who are in trouble for various reasons, who are in very difficult races. But beyond that, there are a lot of races where we’re slightly ahead or we’re slightly behind. And this is where mobilizing our voters over the next eight days—making sure that they vote—will put us in a solid position.
One of your colleagues, Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, according to the Associated Press, is planning to announce a run for president—or at least announce he’s going to be exploring the idea—this afternoon. Do you have any advice for him or thoughts about the decision?
Duncan Hunter has been a great chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and frankly, he’s been a very good member of Congress for the last 20 years. I’d love to see him stay in the Congress, but as we all know, I think we’ve got the most wide-open presidential nomination on the Republican side that we’ve ever seen. And I guess from where I sit, the more the merrier. It’ll make the debate that much better.
And finally, leadership elections are currently set for November 15. Is that date set in stone or would you consider delaying it depending on the outcome on Election Day?
Well, the speaker and I have discussed this, and it’s certainly going to be up for consideration. I just think that members ought to have a fair shot at choosing their leaders. And depending how Tuesday, November 7, works out, I am convinced there will be a conversation about whether those elections ought to be delayed.