Transcript: Exclusive Interview With House Speaker John Boehner on NSA Leak, Immigration Reform And More

House Speaker John Boehner called NSA leaker Edward Snowden a "traitor."

ByABC News
June 11, 2013, 3:05 AM

June 11, 2013— -- House Speaker John Boehner sat down with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on "Good Moring America" to discuss the NSA leak, immigration reform, the IRS scandal and much more.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker, thank you for doin' this. Let's talk first about these-- revelations about the National Security Agency. Edward Snowden has come forward, said he brought the documents into the public eye. His supporters say he's-- a whistle-blowing patriot. His critics say he's betrayed the country, broken the law. Where do you stand?

JOHN BOEHNER: He's a traitor. The president outlined last week that these were important national security programs to help keep Americans safe, and give us tools-- to fight the terrorist threat th-- that we face. The president also outlined that there are appropriate safeguards in place-- to make sure that-- there's-- there's no-- snooping, if you will-- on Americans-- here at home. But-- the disclosure of this information-- puts Americans at risk. It shows-- our adversaries what our capabilities are. And-- it's a giant violation of the law.

RELATED: John Boehner Talks NSA Leaks, IRS Scandal and Immigration With George Stephanopoulos

STEPHANOPOULOS: As you point out, the president has said these programs are effective. They're fully constitutional, fully approved by Congress, and limited. Do you agree with all that?

BOEHNER: I do. I've been briefed on all of these programs. Remember, this is all past-- and-- and broad bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate. And-- and when you look at these programs, there are clear safeguards. There's no American who's gonna be snooped on in any way-- unless they're in contact-- with some terrorists somewhere around the world.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So even though all of these phone records, not phone calls, but all these phone records are being scooped up-- you believe that Americans' privacy is still protected?

BOEHNER: Absolutely. And every time-- that I've been in a briefing, nine of the ten people in a room are lawyers-- there to protect-- the privacy of the American people. George, throughout our history we've had this-- we've had this tug-- between our principle responsibility as the government to-- to keep Americans safe-- and at the same time, protect their privacy.

And so there's this balancing act-- that goes on. And I believe-- that when you look at this program and what it does-- we-- you'll find-- that we protect the privacy of the American people-- while at the same time, giving us tools-- to keep Americans safe and to go after the terrorist.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator John McCain-- I think he agrees with you in large measure. But he said that there should be an open hearing so the American public can be reassured about the program. Senator Feinstein, chair of the Intelligence Committee also says she's open to that. Do you think that's a good idea?

BOEHNER: Well, I'll let-- the-- the chairs of the Intelligence Committees-- make that decision. But there is heavy oversight of this program-- by the House Intelligence Committee on a bipartisan basis and the Senate Intelligence Committee. And that's why I feel comfortable-- that-- that we can operate this program and protect the privacy rights of-- of our citizens.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, we asked-- our viewers for questions for you. And so many came in on the same exact theme. Where are the jobs? What is this Congress doing for jobs?

BOEHNER: Well, that's interesting, George. Because it really is our number one priority. If you look at-- the last four years, we've had anemic economic growth. There aren't enough jobs. People's wages aren't growing. And frankly, I believe the president's policies are getting in the way of creating more jobs.

So we're focused on fixin' our tax code to make America more competitive-- dealing with our looming debt crisis that's out there, making sure that we get more American made energy. Tryin' to get rid of the red tape that comes out of Washington. But the president-- and the administration, continue, whether it's the EPA harassing all kinds of Americans-- whether it's-- Obamacare, which is like a wet blanket hanging over the economy-- these are getting in the way of creating more jobs in our country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And on the four-- on the four proposals you mentioned, the four goals you mentioned, is anything going to happen this year? Anything signed into law?

BOEHNER: Well, that'll be up-- to our colleagues in the Senate and the president. The House is gonna continue to do its work. It's-- it's all we can do--

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're not that optimistic.

BOEHNER: Well, I've been around Washington a while, George. And you've been around it a while as well. We've got divided government. We got Republicans that control the House. We've got Democrats control the Senate and the White House. They have different thoughts about-- a lot of these issues. But if we're serious about getting Americans back to work, helping-- to improve-- their take home pay-- we've gotta-- we've gotta stop some of these policies--

STEPHANOPOULOS: But is there any kind of-- any kind of conversation goin' on between you and the president on these big-- economic issues right now? Any hope for the kind of bargain you've worked on in the past?

BOEHNER: Well, most of what we've talked on-- in the past is about dealing with the-- our long term spending problem, and-- tryin' to fix-- our tax code. We can't cut our way to prosperity, nor can we grow our way out of this mountain of debt.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The deficit's comin' down--

BOEHNER: We have to-- the deficit is coming down. Because the president got a tax increase on January the 1st. And we agreed a year and a half ago-- to cut spending. But we've gotta do both. We've gotta deal with our long term spending problem. We've gotta fix our tax code-- to make it-- fair for all Americans. Bring the rates down and clean out the-- the underbrush. It'll help our economy grown and help Americans' wages increase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In the past, it now looks like the-- the-- the country's not gonna hit another debt limit till probably sometime-- in the fall. In the past, you've said that you would only approve an increase in the debt limit if it was matched by spending cuts equivalent to the increase. Is that still your position?

BOEHNER: It is. I believe that if we're gonna increase the-- the debt limit, there oughta be cuts and reforms in place-- that are greater than the increase in the debt limit. What-- what I'm tryin' to do, George, is to leverage the political process in Washington to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices.

We have a serious problem. We've spent more money than what we've brought in for 55 of the last 60 years. There's no business in America that can survive like that, no family in America that can survive like that. And that's-- a government can't survive continuing to spend more than what we bring in. We have to address our long-term spending problem--

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you've got the sequester in place right now. Some have even said that that's holding back more economic growth right now. You're just gonna insist on more spending cuts right now?

BOEHNER: I'd say cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit. A lot of these things would be phased in over a long period of time-- that when you look down the road over the next 10, 20, 30 years, will have a dramatic effect-- on our budget deficit and our debt.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you know the president said he's not gonna go along with that. So are we headed for another kinda showdown like we had back in 2011?

BOEHNER: George-- for 20 years-- I've watched predecessors and my predecessors, leaders in both parties see this problem coming, and seein' it coming-- and doing nothing about it. 10,000 baby boomers like me retiring every day, 70,000 this week, 3.5 million this year. And this is just year three of the baby boomers-- beginning to retire.

And it's not like there's money in Social Security or money in Medicare. It's all been spent. And-- and so this-- this is a serious problem. It's not fair-- to my kids and yours, and their kids some day for us to leave them with a mountain of debt.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if you can't convince the president, he holds firm, you're prepared to see the country go into default?

BOEHNER: No. Our goal here is not to default. Our goal here is to get ourselves on a sound fiscal path.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about immigration. It's on the Senate floor-- this week. Can you support the Senate bill?

BOEHNER: I've got real concerns about-- the Senate bill. I-- wanna applaud the efforts of the gang of eight in the Senate-- applaud my colleagues-- who've worked hard on this. But-- especially in the area of border security-- and internal enforcement of this system-- I'm concerned that it doesn't go far enough.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If it goes farther, are you prepared to sign on to a bill that has a clear path to citizenship for those who are now in the country illegally?

BOEHNER: George, what I've tried to do over the course of the last six months is to create an environment-- in the House where members from both parties can continue to work together. Seven-- we have a gang of seven. We have a bipartisan--

STEPHANOPOULOS: Used to be eight.

BOEHNER: Used to eight. But-- but we've got seven, bipartisan group of seven that have come to an agreement. Chairman Goodloe at the Judiciary Committee has been working through-- these issues with his members. And I'm hopeful that we'll have a product-- come out of the committee-- by the end of June. I believe that it's important for the House to work its will-- on this issue. And-- and I would expect that-- a House bill will be to the right of where the Senate is.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But still include a path to citizenship?

BOEHNER: I'll let-- I'll let— what I've committed to is to continue to work with all parties. And I'm-- some of these questions, let's be honest. They're gonna be decided on the House floor. I believe in an open process. And I believe-- in this case, a lot of these big questions will be decided on the House floor--

STEPHANOPOULOS: But in the end, you're gonna have to make the big call. You're gonna have to make the call on whether or not to allow a vote on a bill-- that perhaps doesn't get a majority of Republicans. (COUGH) In the past, you have not been willing to do that. Are you willing to do it now?

BOEHNER: George, I-- listen. I've allowed the House to work with-- t-- well, more than any speaker in modern history, to the point where there are some bills that have passed-- with a majority of Democrats-- in favor, and a minority of Republicans--

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're willing to do that with immigration.

BOEHNER: --and I've been criticized for it. What I'm committed to is a fair and open process on the floor of the House-- so that all members-- have an opportunity.


BOEHNER: It's not up-- it's not about what I want. It's about what the House wants. And my job is-- as speaker-- is to ensure that all members on both sides have a fair shot at their ideas--

STEPHANOPOULOS: And if that means-- if that means putting on the floor a bill that will get more Democrats than Republicans, the majority of Democrats, not--

BOEHNER: I-- I don't believe that will be the case.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're open to it?

BOEHNER: We're gonna let the House work its will.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about this-- these investigations into the Internal Revenue Service. Last week-- you said it was inconceivable, I believe-- that President Obama did not know about this before he said he knew about the problems at the IRS. Do you still believe that? And what is it based on?

BOEHNER: Well, it's based on the fact that-- many of his senior staff-- knew about it-- and have known about it for some time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Only this year--

BOEHNER: And-- well, over the last three or four months. George, I-- I know how I operate with my senior staff. I meet with 'em every morning. It's an opportunity for me to download-- what I pick up. It's an opportunity that-- for them to download what they're pickin' up. And-- and it would be inconceivable in my operation-- that-- that my staff would know it and I wouldn't.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think the president isn't being straight with the American public here--

BOEHNER: I-- I-- I just said I think it's inconceivable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he said that's the fact.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't-- you don't buy it?

BOEHNER: Well, it just-- it just doesn't-- it-- it doesn't pass the straight face test. How could-- how can your chief of staff-- your general counsel know, and you not know? But-- the more important point, George--

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a pretty serious charge.

BOEHNER: --is that there's a serious problem at the IRS. Our goal is to-- is to root out-- the problem. What happened on this case-- what's happened s-- in some other cases-- the IRS-- plays an important role-- in our government. People-- already have doubts about the IRS. And all this has done is raised even more doubts. And then when you look at the fact that the IRS under Obamacare, is the agency-- charged with enforcing Obamacare-- I think-- scares-- the dickens out of most Americans.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what's the fix here?

BOEHNER: I think we need to get to the bottom of what happened. And w-- there's no reason to prescribe some fix until we really know what happened. Were there violations of the law? And-- and-- and work with the administration, and make sure it's fixed--

STEPHANOPOULOS: And-- but have you seen any evidence, or has Chairman Issa produced any evidence that shows this was directed by the White House in any way, shape or form?

BOEHNER: This White House is acting like every other White House that I've seen. Stone wall, stone wall, stone wall. Reluctant to turn over inf-- over information. And as a result-- we've gotta scratch and claw. But we're gonna follow-- we're gonna follow-- the leads. We're gonna follow in the information to where it takes us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What information do you want from them that they haven't provided?

BOEHNER: I wanna know-- this wasn't operated and done by some low-level employees in Cincinnati. So who directed them? And where did this come from?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Carson Cummings says that the evidence he's produced says that it is-- that it ha-- that it was generated in Cincinnati. You don't buy that?

JOHN BOEHNER: No. I'm not buyin' that at all.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You believe it was directed--

BOEHNER: I didn't.

STEPHANOPOULOS: --from the White House?

BOEHNER: I don't know where it was directed from. And it's not-- it's not my job to-- to do that. Our committees are gonna do their job. Under the constitution, we're required to provide oversight in the Executive Branch. We've got an important job to do here, and we're gonna do it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're c-- you're-- you're comfortable with the way that Chairman Issa is proceeding? He's faced some criticism for, for example, calling Jay Carney at the White House a paid liar.

BOEHNER: I understand. I think-- it'll be important for the facts-- to speak for themselves. And what our job is to do is to uncover the facts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: When you look-- at your tenure as-- as House speaker, what do you consider at this point your biggest accomplishment?

BOEHNER: Ensuring that members are all treated fairly-- whether it's in committee or on the floor-- that-- that members have an opportunity to participate. You know, over the course of the 20 years that I served before I was speaker, I saw the process get more closed and more closed and more closed-- almost every year.

Until the point where, you know, in 2000 and-- 2008, 2009, 2010, you know, there were a handful of members who would decide the beginning and the end of the bill-- while most-- all Democrats and Republicans were left out of the process. I just don't think that's healthy for a-- our institution. And what I wanna do is I want-- make sure members can participate.

Because if there-- we have a fair and open process on the floor-- that means chairmen are gonna have to reach out on their committees, which will involve more members. And over time, begin to break down some of the partisan scar tissue that we see in the House.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You got a lot of that scar tissue right now. Nancy Pelosi-- last month said that if you were a woman, you'd be labeled the weakest speaker in history. How do you respond to that?

BOEHNER: Well, I have a different style than-- than she did. She f-- felt like she had to be in charge, and ramrod everything every day. That's just not my style. We've got a-- we've got a good team of people in the House on both sides of the aisle. We got a good leadership team. And-- I don't have to be in charge of everything that happens every day.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no offense taken?

BOEHNER: I'm-- none whatsoever. W-- she and I have a great relationship. She has a completely different style than I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Bottom line, what's the most important thing you'll get done this year?

BOEHNER: I think-- immigration reform-- is probably at the top of that list.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Signed into law?

BOEHNER: I think by the end of the year, we could have a bill. Now, I don't know how much-- traffic-- that this-- will bear. This is a-- this is a big bill. And I'm tryin'-- people tryin' to do an awful lot of things. But I think-- we've got a serious problem with our legal immigration-- system. We clearly have a problem with illegal immigration. We got a problem with border security, and our ability to enforce the law today. So when you start to look at tryin' to address all of that, it's a big challenge.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But one that passes the House, passes the Senate, signed by the president--

BOEHNER: Yeah. No question.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker, good luck.

BOEHNER: Thank you. I'll need it.

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