JUDY WOODRUFF: And to our Newsmaker interview with House Minority Leader John Boehner.
We recently sat down with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to discuss Democrats’ priorities ahead of November’s elections. And tonight we get the Republican view.
The minority leader spoke to us a short time ago from the Capitol on a day when lawmakers reached agreements on funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the president’s terrorist surveillance program.
John Boehner, the House minority leader, thank you very much for joining us.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: Judy, good to be with you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, after months of no agreement, it now appears that Democrats, Republicans in the House and the White House have come to an agreement on continued funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What turned the key on this? What was the breakthrough here?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, Judy, after months of a kabuki dance with Democrat leaders, they finally decided to reach across the aisle to Republicans. And we sat down and, in a matter of several hours, were able to put an agreement together.
And I think it’s a great victory for our troops and their families. This funds our activities in Afghanistan and in Iraq, provides additional and new G.I. benefits for our soldiers and their families, and at the same time provides some increased funding for the disasters that are — the flooding disasters going on in the Midwest.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, of course, those things that you mentioned on the domestic side cost money. Why were Republicans willing to go along with those things after earlier saying that was no-go?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I think the important part on our side is that there were no tax increases in this bill. There are no extraneous spending items. There’s no earmarks or pork in the bill. And those were issues early on that had concerns for members on my side of the aisle, and we were able to eliminate all of that, as well.
Congress on surveillance, drilling
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, similarly we know Republicans and Democrats have been able to come up with an agreement on electronic surveillance legislation, sweeping overhaul of U.S. spying laws. What broke the logjam on this?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, we've been in discussions for the last several months on how to provide our intelligence officials with all the tools they need to really protect the American people and while making sure that we uphold people's constitutional rights.
And everyday on Capitol Hill, there's a tug between freedom and security. I don't care what the bill is. It's just a -- it's always a pendulum.
And members were concerned about protecting people's constitutional rights, but at the same time we want to give our intelligence officials all the tools they need to catch these people before they harm Americans.
And these are some very technical issues. But after months of conversations, I think we have a bill that I know most Republicans in the House and Senate will support and, for that matter, some number of Democrats in both bodies.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On the other hand, we don't see agreement on an issue that I know is on the minds of just about every American, and that's the price of gasoline.
You have the president, John McCain, Senator McCain coming on board now, saying he favors off-shore drilling for oil. The Democrats, as you know, argue that, even if you drill, you're not going to have an effect on the price of gasoline for at least a decade, if not much longer. How do you respond to that?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, Judy, that's not really true. I think, if we were to have votes in the House and Senate on opening up the Outer Continental Shelf or issues such as ANWR, we'd send a real clear message to the speculators in the oil market, and it could have a very dramatic affect.
I remember in 1995, when both the House and the Senate, in a bipartisan way, sent the ANWR legislation opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil production. Bill Clinton, the president in 1995, vetoed that bill.
Today, we'd have some ten -- or about a billion barrels -- a million barrels of oil per day if that bill would have been signed into law. And so the sooner we get started, the sooner we're going to have more production.
But we know, if we're going to be serious about having energy independence in America, that we need to do all of the above. We need to conserve more; we need biofuels; we need to develop alternative fuels. I think we need to get real serious about nuclear energy.
And, yes, we can drill for new oil and gas in the United States in an environmentally safe way.
Progress in Iraq
JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to quickly circle back to the thing I asked you, the subject I first asked you about, and that is continuing funding for Iraq, the Iraq war in particular.
How is it that the Republicans were able to continue the funding at the levels that the president wanted, when polls show most Americans want to see a deadline set for troops to come home, at least some time in the next year?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, we all want the troops to come home as soon as possible. And we do have now some 20,000 of our troops who either are home or are on their way home, but we want them to come home having succeeded in their mission.
This has been a very difficult battle in Iraq, as we all know. And clearly, mistakes were made early on. Clearly, the Iranians took a more active role. Al-Qaida became a major factor in that battle.
But there's no question that General Petraeus' plan over the last 18 months has worked very well. And we have more security in Iraq than we have had. The political system is beginning to work better.
And at the end of the day, success in Iraq may not be important for the next year or two. But when you look out over the next 30, 40, 50 years, having a stable democracy in a part of the world that's never known it will help stabilize that part of the world, help make it safer.
And I think, at the end of the day, there's a majority of the members of Congress, both House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, who believe that success was critically important, that unilateral withdrawal of our forces, unilateral declaration of defeat, raising the white flag was not an option.
And I think Americans believe that they want our troops to come home having been successful, as well.
GOP in the general election
JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to turn you now, Mr. Boehner, to a question on this year's election. The political climate for your party, the Republican Party, has been described as anywhere from poor to terrible this year.
The president has record low approval ratings; I think 25 percent in the latest poll. Your Republican colleague, Tom Davis, has said, "If we were dog food, they'd take us off the shelf."
What are the chances that the Republicans are going to take back control of the Congress in November?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, Judy, elections are about the future. They're not about the past. And George Bush isn't on the ballot in November. We're going to have Senator Obama and Senator McCain on the ballot.
And so, as we look toward the future, it's going to be about, which party can best bring the kind of real change that Americans want?
And I think most Americans realize that Washington is broken. And what we have to do, as a party, is show them that we understand that Washington is broken and that we can bring real solutions that will bring about changes that will help their lives.
And when it comes to the issue of taxes, Democrats want to raise taxes; Republicans want to keep taxes low.
When it comes to the issue of health care, Democrats want to have more government control of our health care; we believe that doctors and patients ought to be in charge of their health care, and that we ought to reward quality and innovation in the system.
And when it comes to the issue of national security, I don't think there's any question that John McCain has a very strong record on that issue, as compared with Senator Obama.
And so, as we present these issues, as we get closer to the election, I frankly think we're going to do far better than people expect.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned taxes. You mentioned keeping the country safe, among other things. I hear some people saying, "Well, the Republicans are talking about issues, but they're the old Republican agenda. You don't hear enough fresh ideas coming out of the Republican Party."
Is that a problem for Republicans this year?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Oh, I don't think so. I think, when it comes to the issue of energy and gas prices, we've been on the right side of this issue for decades. We've been trying to push for more production of American-made oil and gas and have been stopped at every turn by the Democrat majority.
And while that may not be a fresh issue, let me tell you: It's on the minds of every American.
And between now and election day, you're going to see Republicans on Capitol Hill pushing Democrats to have votes in the House and Senate on having more American-made energy. Let's let the American people see who's for more American-made energy and who isn't.
John McCain's broad appeal
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned John McCain. And I know you know that there have been mixed feelings among your colleagues, Republican colleagues about Senator McCain. In fact, the former House Republican leader, Tom DeLay, said not so long ago, earlier this year, he said, "John McCain has done more to hurt the Republican Party than any elected official I know of." Is John McCain a help or a hindrance?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, I've had my differences with John McCain over the years on, you know, a handful of issues. But at the end of the day, when I think about what I believe in as a Republican, John McCain shares those same principles.
And we as a political party ought to be fortunate that John McCain is, in fact, our candidate. He widens the playing field for Republicans all over the country. He puts more House and Senate races in play than any other person that we could have nominated.
And when you look at the fact that he appeals to virtually all Republicans, a wide swath of independents, and, for that matter, a large chunk of conservative Democrats, I think that you're going to see a very successful McCain campaign in November.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me try again: How many seats are the Republicans going to pick up in the House this November?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, we have an uphill fight. My focus is on doing everything I can to help my colleagues and candidates between now and election day.
And we'll just take it one day at a time, take our fight about bringing lower gas prices to the American people every day, and I think we're going to do much better than people think.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, quickly, what about your home state of Ohio? Is that going to McCain or Obama?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I think John McCain wins Ohio. I mean, I've been heavily involved in the Bush campaign in 2000 and 2004 in Ohio. I know what needs to happen in Ohio for Republicans to win and where Republicans need to turn out and win.
I just don't believe that Senator Obama can compete in those rural areas in western Ohio or, for that matter, in southeast Ohio. And that's where you've got a -- they've got to make a real difference. I don't think he can do that, so I think McCain wins Ohio. You heard it here first.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we do hope to see you out on the campaign trail. The House minority leader, John Boehner, thank you very much.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Thank you, Judy.