Embattled House speaker John Boehner on Friday made an impassioned plea to his Republican colleagues: Stop squabbling: we’ve got work to do.
Internal fighting and frustration is threatening to derail the GOP’s plans to keep its House majority at the same time as winning the Senate and White House in November, he warned in a Wall Street Journal interview.
"There's a much bigger prize here,” he told the Journal’s Peggy Noonan. “You can't get the bigger prize without action. And we need to be united in order to have action.
He said the election year is more promising than it might look. “Instead of looking at what we can do with it, we’re busy gnawing at each other over small differences that we might have.”
Boehner even admitted he was close to quitting during last summer’s battle over the debt crisis. He said his staff was anxious at the deal that he and President Barack Obama were cooking up.
“I looked at them all because they were all getting nervous. I said, 'Listen, if this means the end of my Speakership, fine.' I can walk out of here knowing I did the right thing. . . . If we don't deal with it we'll be like Greece and the rest of them."
Noonan interviewed Boehner on Wednesday just after he had come from a House GOP conference where members were described as “feeling fractious” and “disheartened."
“I told them they have ocular rectitis. That's when your eyes get confused with your butt,” leading to a poor outlook on life.
Boehner said the frustration among Republican House members is normal “for a majority that's frustrated by a president who doesn't want to work with us and a Senate that doesn't do the bills we send over.
“Then the frustration builds and they get to nipping at each other,” he said, describing his meeting as “one of those mornings where you had to kind of re-set the table."
Boehner has had a bad few weeks. He was perceived as vacillating over supporting Obama’s payroll tax holiday and he is now facing revolt among his own party over his signature highways bill.
One of the Republicans’ successes, the Jobs Bill has been overshadowed by an argument between two Arizona congressmen – David Schweikert and Ben Quayle, who will face off in a primary over the right to represent a newly drawn seat – over who was its author.
Another Republican, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, has even stopped going to GOP conference meetings in protest at the highways bill, he told Politico on Thursday. Gowdy sympathized with Boehner’s position, “Could you imagine trying to cobble together 218 votes in a conference full of high school student body presidents?” he asked.
Boehner denied that it is tea party-supporting members who make his life difficult. “My problem is not with our 89 freshmen, my problem is with a few senior members who—they always want more,” he said. “They always want more than what you can produce."
He said too many of his members want to tear down the size, cost and power of the federal government. “It took the other side 80 years to build this monstrosity . . . and our guys want to get rid of it tomorrow," he said pointing out that the Founding Fathers had designed the system so such action could not be implemented without full and lengthy consideration.
One of his problems, the Speaker said is that technology makes it so easy for people to get their views out. “With modern communications, a handful of them who feel differently will go out there and make their case on why we oughta go further, why we oughta do more.
“And there'll be a couple of outside organizations who come along and gin it up, and then all of a sudden [some] members are getting heat, and you know they really want to be with us but they don't want to put up with the heat at home. But it's not the freshmen, that's the amazing part of this."
Boehner stressed that he and his deputy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, are united. "Eric and I have never disagreed on strategy, ever. From time to time there's been some disagreement on tactics, not usually between Eric and I, usually on the staff level."
Boehner described his congressional colleagues as “just a slice of America.”
“We got some of the smartest people in the country who serve here, and some of the dumbest. We got some of the best people you'd ever meet, and some of the raunchiest,” and he said he has to deal with potential scandals and hopefully stop them before they get too big.
“I've gotta be the big brother, the father, I gotta be the disciplinarian, the dean of students, the principal, the spouse—you can't believe all the roles that I have to play! But one of them is, you know, some problems you can nip early. I had three guys in here a few years ago, I said 'Boys, you're cruising down the wrong path.'
“Two of them listened, one of them didn't. He's no longer here."
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