NBC's Lauer to Boehner: Is Obama 'The Most Inspirational African American Living Right Now?'

In an interview with House Speaker John Boehner aired on Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer highlighted the Speaker inviting two girls from a Washington D.C. inner city school to the State of the Union address, but rather than focus on the scholarship program Boehner supports, Lauer wondered: "They're your guests. Could you blame them, though, if they're not a little mesmerized by Barack Obama tonight? The nation's first African American president?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Continuing to aggrandize Obama, Lauer went further: "Is he, in your opinion, the most inspirational African American living right now?...You think that's the way these kids will feel when they watch?"

Lauer followed up by grilling Boehner on a lack of diversity in Congress and how that might impact the students: "They may look down at the floor of the House Chamber tonight, and while they'll see the nation's first African American president, they may see a smaller number of faces of color than they might expect....if they were to ask you, 'Why so many white faces, why not more African Americans?' How would you answer that question?"

In addition, Lauer fretted over Boehner's young guests witnessing political division:

They're also going to sit in some moments tonight – the President's going to say something, they're going to look down and half the room is going to clap and half the room is going to sit silent. And it might bring the question up, if they turn to you and say, "Mr. Speaker, what is the difference between Republicans and Democrats?" How would you answer that question?

Boehner replied: "My Democratic colleagues, God Bless them, you know, have all this faith and confidence in government. I have more faith and confidence in people, and want to do more to empower people to be able to help themselves and to be whatever they want to be."

Lauer then turned to the girls themselves, Lacy Joseph and Zuri Franklin, wondering: "Do you think Speaker Boehner and the President are friends?" When both of them said yes, a skeptical Lauer followed up: "You do?"


Here is a transcript of the February 13 exchange:

8:44AM ET

MATT LAUER: And more of our exclusive interview with the Speaker of House John Boehner. You know, he can invite anyone he wants to, to sit in his box to watch the State of the Union address. But in an effort to highlight a Washington D.C. scholarship program, he reserves the seats for inner city students. This years attendees, fourth graders Lacy Joseph and Zuri Franklin from St. Anthony's Catholic School. And I asked Speaker Boehner what he wanted those kids to take away from the experience.

JOHN BOEHNER: I want them to believe that they can live the American dream and grow up and be anything they want to be. My whole involvement with these 800 kids at four little schools that I support, is to try to expose them to the fact that they can grow up and be anything they want to be. Listen, Matt, you and I, we both lived the American dream. I'm here to make sure that dream is available for my kids and your kids.

LAUER: They're your guests. Could you blame them, though, if they're not a little mesmerized by Barack Obama tonight?

BOEHNER: Oh, I'm sure they will.

LAUER: The nation's first African American president?

BOEHNER: I'm sure they will be.

LAUER: Is he, in your opinion, the most inspirational African American living right now?

BOEHNER: Well, I think so.

LAUER: You think that's the way these kids will feel when they watch?

BOEHNER: I would think so.

LAUER: They may look down at the floor of the House Chamber tonight, and while they'll see the nation's first African American president, they may see a smaller number of faces of color than they might expect. Two in the Senate, forty two in the House. One on the Supreme Court. If they were to turn to you and ask you, Mr. Speaker, why – although they won't be sitting with you, but if they were to ask you, "Why so many white faces, why not more African Americans?" How would you answer that question?

BOEHNER: I just go back over the 22 years that I've been here. I would guess the number of other faces in the Congress has more than doubled. Our society is making progress. Our society will continue to make progress.

LAUER: They're also going to sit in some moments tonight – the President's going to say something, they're going to look down and half the room is going to clap and half the room is going to sit silent. And it might bring the question up, if they turn to you and say, "Mr. Speaker, what is the difference between Republicans and Democrats?" How would you answer that question?

BOEHNER: My Democratic colleagues, God Bless them, you know, have all this faith and confidence in government. I have more faith and confidence in people, and want to do more to empower people to be able to help themselves and to be whatever they want to be.

LAUER: Do you think Speaker Boehner and the President are friends?

LACY JOSEPH: Yes.

ZURI FRANKLIN: Yes.

LAUER: You do? Yeah?

FRANKLIN: Yes.

JOSEPH: But they have a difference because President Barack Obama is a Democrat and Speaker Boehner is a Republican.

LAUER: So tonight you're going to be sitting there, the most important people in the country will be in that room. You know, the President, members of Congress, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court justices are all going to be there and so will be Lacy and Zuri. Now I'm looking at you smile. Do you think that's something you'll end up telling your kids about?

JOSEPH: Probably because I've been hearing that children aren't allowed to go to the State of the Union and I would – I would tell my children because it's a special moment. I got invited by Speaker Boehner.

LAUER: So might this be that pivotal moment for these two students? I mean, I think back to that picture I remember of a young Bill Clinton shaking the hand of John Kennedy, and it changed his life.

BOEHNER: Right, right.

LAUER: Could a moment like tonight, or an hour like tonight, change the lives of these young students?

BOEHNER: You never know. But if you give them an opportunity, they might get a big idea, they might follow their dream.

LAUER: Speaker of the House, John Boehner.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC