New Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) held his first “pen and pad” session for print reporters this afternoon and discussed a variety of topics on his legislative agenda.
Former Majority Leader Tom Delay held the sessions weekly in his office and similar meetings are held by Minority Leader Steny Hoyer.
As he arrived for the meeting held in his Capitol office, he joked, “If this goes well, we’ll do it again.”
Boehner opened by alerting reporters to two upcoming items: the National United Foods Act to regulate food labeling that has been long contested and completion of the Patriot Act.
Media immediately began asking Boehner about lobbying reform. He pointed that drafts for lobbying reform were being contemplated but warned reporters he could not be expected to set a specific date when the final version might be ready. Budget resolutions are also being worked on in the house and Boehner said, “We all know that federal spending is headed in the wrong direction, but I expect it will be passed with Republican support, but not bipartisan support.”
When Boehner opened up for questions reporters immediately starting asking him about lobbying reform, which Boehner should strive to “restore trust.” He said scandals have “hurt this entire institution and 99% of members on both sides of the aisle are decent and hardworking.”
He did say that “earmark reform must be essential to the reform package” because “earmarks are out of control” but he Boehner didn’t want to ban gifts to members because not being able to accept small gifts like a “sweatshirt or a ball cap from a high school” might put members in an uncomfortable situation.
Boehner said there’s “some merit” to the one year ban on free travel, but would rather members use a pre-approval process instead.
He was asked about who found out about the port security and Boehner said he found out about it by watching the news, that he had “watched it mushroom over the weekend and I’ve been dealing with it on the road all week.” He refused to say whether he supported the deal and instead only offered that “it’s pretty clear it’s a detailed process, but it’s a process that hasn’t been updated post-9/11.”
On complications with Bush’s prescription drug entitlement benefits that he has supported he explained, “It’s confusing because competition is working, but competition is driving the cost down. I believe it’s going to be a big winner.”
Boehner criticized an aspect of the House immigration bill that requires businessess to create a complex federal database to track workers. He said, “It’s a huge unfunded mandate on the private sector. And it’s in the jurisdiction of my former committee that I chaired. It wasn’t allowed to be offered as an amendment with Chris Cannon and Steve Chapman who had to remove that. It wasn’t allowed to be offered on the floor and clearly, you can tell I felt pretty strongly about it. I was on the border last Thursday with Congressman Steve Pierce and Congressman Mike McCall –and Mike is the chair of the subcommittee on investigations of homeland security– where we met with local sheriff and local police and we met with ranchers in that area as well. And there is a very, very big problem in bringing more technology and more people to protecting the borders. The threat on these people’s property and their lives by people smuggling drugs and smuggling people have reached a point where there’s some concern among these families who have to live in New Mexico right on the border. So, I think it’s important we have a strong border security bill. The House has passed its bill, the Senate has passed theirs. I don’t want to prejudge what I’ll be for and what I’ll not be for. We’ve got to pass a bill and we need to get to conference and begin to address this issue promptly.”
Speaker/Majority Leader Relations
A reporter was concerned of potential conflict between Speaker Denny Hastert and Boehner, but the new Majority Leader put rumors to rest. “We like each other, we trust each other and we get along fine. I’m spending time with him every week just to make sure we’re on the same page. That if there are differences we try to resolve them before it gets out in the open before we get out there in front of all of you. But, listen we’re all human beings. We’re not always going to agree. I’ve been married for 32 years, you think I agree with my wife all the time? No! But we find some way to come to an agreement. I couldn’t be more comfortable with him. I can’t think of a member I’d be more comfortable with.”
When questioned about progress in Iraq Boehner said, “We’ve got a lot invested there in lives, equipment and cost. But, I’ve got to tell you: we went there for the right reasons, we are there for the right reasons and this could be the greatest gift that we give to our kids and their kids. Bringing some sort of stability to a part of the world that has grown increasingly unstable over the last 30 years will pay giant dividends down the road. It is difficult? Yes. Has it been more difficult than expected? Yes. But, I’m going to suggest to you that if we’re able to build some sort of democratic network in Iraq you’ll see it throughout the region and 20,30, 40 years from now is where we’ll see the big dividends here.”
Boehner also told a reporter seeking to ask a question “nice haircut” when he began to speak. When others in the room laughed and turned around to look at the man Boehner said, “Adam, that’s the worst haircut I have ever seen in my life” and pressed Adam to be more concise asking “What is your point?” in response to the question.