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Interview With Speaker Boehner: ‘We Need to Do a Better Job’ (Part I)

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Boehner said he’s “far from done” with being speaker. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Since November’s electoral letdown, congressional Republicans have been under fire from inside their party over their inability to connect with voters.

Conservative thinkers have pilloried them as intellectually vapid and stuck in the 1980s, radio talkers have blasted them as politically inept and at least one GOP governor called them stupid. Speaker John A. Boehner’s response? Essentially: I hear you.

In part one of the Ohio Republican’s written question-and-answer exchange with CQ Roll Call, the Speaker discussed the current state of the GOP and the role of the House majority in rehabilitating its decrepit reputation. Boehner also talked about why he abandoned bilateral negotiations with President Barack Obama and attempted to dismiss suggestions that 2014 will be his last year as Speaker.

Check this space Tuesday morning for part two of our interview, which includes a focus on the issues currently before Congress.

CQ Roll Call: What is the role of House Republicans in helping the party achieve resurgence in popularity with voters? What is your role in helping them achieve that goal?

Boehner: There’s no doubt that, as a party, we need to do a better job of communicating and engaging with the American people. In the House, we only control one half of one third of the government, and going up against the presidential bully pulpit is tough. But our priorities are still firmly aligned with the American peoples’: creating jobs, cutting wasteful government spending, and expanding opportunity for all Americans so they can achieve the American dream. Our job as House Republicans is to put our principles into legislation, like the budget that we will vote on this month, and show how those solutions help families in our Congressional districts and around the country.

CQ Roll Call: Talk about your view of the current state of the Republican Party? Where does it need to improve? Where is it just fine and simply needs to reaffirm its commitment to principles?

Boehner: Our principles — things like freedom and responsibility — are eternal, but we’ve got to do a better job of articulating those principles and … translating them into common-sense solutions that will help middle-class families and small businesses. We have a lot of young, exciting new voices in our party who can articulate our positive vision of our ideas, so I think our future remains bright.

CQ Roll Call: How should your members interpret the results of the election and the current unpopularity of the GOP in general?

Boehner: Well, we have the majority in one House of Congress, and Congress has been America’s favorite whipping boy for more than two centuries, so I don’t expect that to change. We lost the presidential election in November and there are lessons to be learned from that. We have to do a better job of reaching out to every American, and making the connection to show how our solutions will do a better job of helping them. I am confident that if we can do that, the Republican Party is going to be just fine.

CQ Roll Call: Some Republicans have criticized congressional Republicans for focusing too narrowly on fiscal issues rather than promoting policies aimed at addressing jobs and economic growth and helping families deal with the problems they face right now. How should Americans interpret House Republicans’ relentless focus on budget and spending issues? What would you like them to think about it?

Boehner: It’s all connected. We aren’t talking about cutting spending for the fun of it. We’re doing it because our economy isn’t going to grow unless we get our spending problem under control. It’s like a wet blanket on our economy, and it’s a direct threat to the American Dream — that’s why we have to deal with it, as part of a larger agenda that includes reforming our tax code, cutting red tape, and increasing the supply of American energy.

CQ Roll Call: What role do House Republicans have to play in helping American families address the challenges of unemployment, high gas prices, the decline in home values, escalating health care costs and other kitchen table issues? How important is it to you that Americans believe that House Republicans care about them and want to help them address their day-to-day problems?

Boehner: It is critically important that we communicate how our solutions will help middle-class families and small businesses on a day-to-day basis. It all starts with jobs. Whether it’s reforming our tax code to create jobs and increase take home pay, addressing our debt crisis to unleash more economic growth, reducing red tape that is a burden to employers, or approving projects like Keystone that will both create jobs and lower energy costs — it’s all about connecting these solutions to families and small businesses.

CQ Roll Call: Are addressing these problems better left to the states? Are they beyond the scope of what a limited federal government should get involved in?

Boehner: There’s no question that on a range of issues, the states are the right place to deal with things. The federal role is limited, under our Constitution. But there are problems that are truly national in scope. Keystone [pipeline] is the perfect example. This is a national priority, yet President Obama continues to oppose a project that will create tens and thousands of jobs and lower energy costs.

CQ Roll Call: How do you view your role as a national leader and as the  highest-ranking Republican in the federal government ? And, what is your role as a philosophical conservative? Can you discuss the challenges you have in reconciling these?

Boehner: I’m just a regular guy with a big job. I’m the leader of the whole House, and I also lead a conservative House majority that is trying to advance common-sense conservative solutions focused on jobs, spending, and reducing the size of government.

CQ Roll Call: You made a decision this year to abandon one-on-one negotiations with Obama and move legislation through regular order — and in some cases only after the Senate has passed its own version of legislation dealing with whatever issue is at hand. What are you hoping to accomplish?

Boehner: Well, look, I just realized that two guys behind closed doors just isn’t the right way to deal with these big problems, and it hasn’t produced results. You want the wisdom of all 535 Members of Congress, and all 300 million Americans brought to bear, in the light of day. Frankly, these one-on-one talks with the President took all the pressure off my friend Harry Reid and Senate Democrats to actually produce legislation. We’re all supposed to be legislators. I’m really indebted to the folks in the Ohio state house back when I first got elected who taught me to be a legislator. The House should pass a bill, the Senate should pass a bill, and if we disagree, we go to Conference. That’s the system our Founders gave us.

CQ Roll Call: Most political observers assume that you’ve already decided to hang up your cleats at the end of 2014. Some have told me that they wouldn’t be surprised if you called it quits earlier. Would you like to stick around long enough for the opportunity to serve as speaker under a Republican president in 2017?

Boehner: I’m in a fight to cut spending, create jobs, and — frankly — save the American Dream. I intend to lead that fight as Speaker of the House. And I’m far from done.

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