Rep. John Boehner Says President Obama and Democrats in 'Denial'

Photo: Diane Sawyer interviews John Boehner
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Republican Rep. John Boehner, the likely next speaker of the House of Representatives, says he believes President Obama does not fully comprehend the meaning of the GOP landslide in the midterm elections.

"There seems to be some denial on the part of the president and other Democratic leaders of the message that was sent by the American people," Boehner said today in an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer. "When you have the most historic election in over 60, 70 years, you would think the other party would understand that the American people have clearly repudiated the policies they've put forward in the last two years."

Obama told reporters at a press conference Wednesday the election results proved that people around the country are primarily frustrated with the state of the economy, not the administration's legislative achievements on the stimulus, health care overhaul or financial reform.

Watch Diane Sawyer's the exclusive interview with Rep. John Boehner tonight on "World News."

Republicans gained at least 60 House seats in Tuesday's midterm election, decisively knocking Democrats and current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from power and setting the stage for Boehner to assume one of government's most powerful leadership roles.

But the future speaker said he does not agree with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said today Republicans' number one priority should be making Obama a one-term president.

"That's Senator McConnell's statement and his opinion," Boehner said. "I think the American people want us to focus on their message during the election: stop the spending, get rid of the uncertainty. Let's get around to creating jobs again and staying focused on what the American people want us to focus on is my number one priority."

Boehner said today he harbors no "personal animosity" towards the president, whom he has not had many opportunities to get to know. He said he does not want philosophical differences to lead to gridlock or squabbling in their relationship.

Asked whether he would agree to what Obama has jokingly called a "slurpee summit," Boehner replied, "I don't know about a slurpee. How about a glass of merlot?"

Tea Party Threat to GOP?

Boehner is poised to play a key role in setting legislative priorities on jobs, taxes and the deficit in the next Congress. He has also promised to pursue the repeal and replacement of the landmark health care legislation passed in March.

"I'm pretty confident that come next year that we will have the votes to repeal that [health care] bill and replace it with common sense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and expand access," Boehner told Sawyer.

But making any progress his priorities will require the ability to find common ground with President Obama and Democrats – a task history has shown will be difficult.

A 20-year veteran of the House and the fiery leader of the House Republicans for the last four years, Boehner has made a name for himself as one of the most high-profile and spirited rhetorical opponents of outgoing House Speaker Pelosi and Obama.

Boehner is expected to join Pelosi, McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid for a meeting with Obama at the White House on Nov. 18 to find common ground and develop a new agenda going forward.

A Speaker Boehner would also face the challenge of keeping a diverse mix of House Republicans in check, including a new class of political rookies and Tea Partiers, some of whom have been sharply critical of party leadership.

But the Ohio Republican, who said patience is the greatest lesson his parents taught him, said he doesn't see the cast of Tea Party candidates as a threat to his ability to build a coalition.

"You learn to deal with every character that walks in the door," Boehner said of his experience growing up in his father's bar. "Trust me, all the skills I learned growing up are the skills I need to do my job."

Tea Partiers "are the most down to earth, ordinary people who want the same thing for our country as Republicans, Democrats," he said. "They see all the spending and all the debt and the growing size of government as a threat… as do I."

Does Boehner believe the House Republican leadership team should include a Tea Party-backed member? "Whoever the members elect, I'm going to serve with and serve with successfully," he said.

Does Boehner Want Tax Cuts Permanent?

Sawyer also pressed Boehner on whether he would be uncompromising on a full, permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts, which the Congress will consider when it returns later this month.

Obama and Democrats have called for a permanent extension of the cuts for the middle class, those Americans making less than $250,000. Many Republicans want the cuts preserved for all Americans.

"I believe we have to extend all the current tax rates for all Americans," Boehner said. "It begins to reduce the uncertainty." Boehner would not clarify whether extending the cuts means making them permanent.

Reflective Future Speaker

Boehner, 60, one of 12 children from an Ohio Roman Catholic family, grew up working in his father's bar and later became president of a plastics company. He was first elected to Congress in 1990.

"We're savers, not spenders," he said of the Boehners. "I wouldn't describe myself as a penny pincher. But debt is just not something that makes me comfortable, and this national debt makes me really uncomfortable."

If elected by his party, Boehner would become the 61st speaker of the U.S. House and third in the line of presidential succession.

"I'm calm, confident and know that if I listen to the American people and be myself, this job will be just fine," he said.

2010 Election Map: Senate, House and Governors Race Results

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