NBC's Lauer Grills Boehner Over 'Harsh' Words for Obama; Blames Him for 'Division' and 'Animosity' in Washington
In the first part of an interview aired on Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer interrogated House Speaker John Boehner over saying President Obama lacked the courage to stand up to his Democratic base: "And by calling the President of the United States out in such harsh terms today, on the day of the State of the Union address....I think a lot of people are going to say, 'Here we go. Same old division. Same old animosity.' Don't they have a right to say that?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Boehner began to reply: "No. Listen, the President and I get along fine...We have a very good relationship." Lauer interrupted: "So this all politics, these questions you raise today?" Boehner continued: "...the American people on election day gave us a mandate, a Republican congress and a Democratic president, and the mandate was to find a way to work together, find common ground."
Lauer declared that one area "where there's a glimmer of hope of cooperation" was immigration reform. He urged Boehner to abandon fellow Republicans on the issue: "...will you bring a bill to the floor of the House even if you don't think you'll get a support of the majority of people in your party, but if you do think that with working with Democrats, you'll get it accomplished? Will you do that?"
In part two of the interview, aired later on the broadcast, Lauer invited Boehner to declare Obama to be "the most inspirational African American living right now."
Here is a transcript of part one of the February 13 interview:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: House Speaker John Boehner explains in an exclusive interview why he feels the President doesn't have the guts to stand up to his own party.
7:14AM ET SEGMENT:
LAUER: In the hours leading up to the State of the Union address, I spoke with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner at a place called Pete's Diner, which his favorite breakfast spot, just steps away from the Capitol. And I began by asking him about some very tough comments he made on Tuesday, saying he didn't believe that the President had the guts to stand up to his own party in an effort to tackle the nation's fiscal problems.
JOHN BOEHNER: Well, what I suggested was during the debt talks the President didn't have the courage to take on the members of his own party. The President knows that we've got a serious spending problem, we've got a debt problem, a structural debt problem that needs to be resolved. But there were issues that we had agreed upon in the summer of 2011 that once we got to December of 2012 weren't even on the table anymore.
LAUER: But when you say he doesn't have the guts to stand up to his own party, Mr. Speaker, couldn't you face that same accusation from Democrats?
BOEHNER: Hey listen, I've had my troubles with my own party, there's no question about it. But it was never about the courage to step up and do the right thing for the country.
LAUER: And by calling the President of the United States out in such harsh terms today, on the day of the State of the Union address, and questioning his guts and questioning his courage, and he's going to walk into that chamber tonight, and he's going to hand you a copy of his speech and he's going to stand in front of you and people are going to be watching your face through that entire speech. And you know what? I think a lot of people are going to say, "Here we go. Same old division. Same old animosity." Don't they have a right to say that?
BOEHNER: No. Listen, the President and I get along fine. There's no – we do. We have a very good relationship. We come from very different-
LAUER: So this all politics, these questions you raise today?
BOEHNER: We come from – we come from very different worlds. He has a liberal ideology. I come from the more conservative side. But having said that, the American people on election day gave us a mandate, a Republican congress and a Democratic president, and the mandate was to find a way to work together, find common ground.
LAUER: If there seems to be an area where there's a glimmer of hope of cooperation, it's on immigration. We had eight members of the Senate, four from each side of the aisle, get together and they came up with a plan. Neither side gets what they really want in this. And isn't that the way the American people want it?
BOEHNER: Yeah. That's why I've had four or five Republican members sitting with four or five Democrat members now for four years, working through a lot of issues of immigration. And I think what I've been trying to do is to foster this bipartisan conversation on immigration reform, both legal and illegal immigration. And I would hope that the Senate players could continue to work in a bipartisan fashion. That's the only way we're going to be able to address the big issues that face our country.
LAUER: Carrying this idea, though, of not everybody getting what they want and taking it down the road. So will you bring a bill to the floor of the House even if you don't think you'll get a support of the majority of people in your party, but if you do think that with working with Democrats, you'll get it accomplished? Will you do that?
BOEHNER: I've done it before.
LAUER: Will you do that on immigration?
BOEHNER: I've done it twice. We'll have to see what the bill is. We've to work through this in a bipartisan way. We can't get the cart before the horse here and begin to try to resolve this.
LAUER: But if it meant accepting, on your part, a pathway to citizenship to get it done, would you accept it?
BOEHNER: Let's not presume the outcome. Let's allow this conversation to occur, let's get members to continue working together, they can expand their group and hopefully we'll have a bipartisan solution to what's a very difficult problem.
LAUER: There seems to be an enormous amount of support for finding a way to curb gun violence in this country. People talk about better mental health screenings. They talk about getting some violence out of our culture, pop culture, movies and TV and the videos that kids are playing, and a lot of people think that you've also got to go and put limits and further restrictions on gun ownership and guns in this country. Are restrictions like that a part of any comprehensive effort to curb gun violence?
BOEHNER: Listen, all of our hearts go out to the victims of these tragedies around our country. I would hope that we would take a broader look at this, the violence in our society. Where does it come from? If you look at each of these mass shootings, each of the shooters all had mental health issues. How can we do a better job there of controlling their access to weapons? What do we do about school safety? There are a lot of things we ought to look at. There's no-
LAUER: How do you feel about the NRA's proposal to put armed guards, armed security in schools?
BOEHNER: Listen, there are a lot of ideas that are out there. The question is, what will truly help bring down the violence in our society? I think taking this, this easy approach and trying to put more rules on lawful gun owners – remember, they're lawful gun owners. The people who own guns illegally, they don't pay attention anyway.
LAUER: And we're going to have more of our interview with the Speaker a little later in the show.