Transcript: Rep. John Boehner Speaks to Diane Sawyer

After historic election, presumptive new Speaker talks about Republican win.

Nov. 4, 2010 — -- Following Tuesday's historic election that will return the House of Representatives to Republican control, House Minority Leader John Boehner, the man expected to be the next Speaker, spoke with ABC's Diane Sawyer about the results. The following is a transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity:

DIANE SAWYER: So, it's Thursday. How does it feel two days later?

JOHN BOEHNER: It feels fine.


JOHN BOEHNER: It just feels fine. I've been very calm through all of this -- for the last month or six weeks -- leading up to the election. And since the election. Know a lot of -- hoopla. But I'm -- calm, confident, and know that if I listen to the American People and -- be myself, this job will go just fine.

DIANE SAWYER: You've been looking at the President's face. Do you feel he got the message you felt that you were sending?

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I didn't see the President's press conference on Wednesday. But I've read a little bit about it. And -- there seems to be some denial on the part of the President, and other Democrat leaders. The message that was sent by the American People. When -- when you have the most historic election in over 60-70 years -- you would think that -- the other party would understand that the American People have clearly repudiated -- the policies that they put forward the last two years.

DIANE SAWYER: The President's extended an invitation to come meet together. What's the first sentence you're gonna say to him?

JOHN BOEHNER: Hello. Nice to see you. Now, listen, I have no personal animosity at all towards the President. I get along well with him. And while we disagree, we try to do it in a way that's -- neither one of us are disagreeable.

DIANE SAWYER: But you haven't talked often in this two years, have you? Been together often?

JOHN BOEHNER: No, usually in a larger group of -- the rest of the leaders. But we get along fine. Just -- we just have differences -- over what the appropriate role of the federal government ought to be.

DIANE SAWYER: The President said today, because he spoke again today in the cabinet room that he said that -- that the American people are saying that they do not want gridlock. And we can't afford squabbling. Agreed? No gridlock.

JOHN BOEHNER: I don't want gridlock. I don't want squabbling.

DIANE SAWYER: No squabbling?

JOHN BOEHNER: But I -- I'm gonna listen to what the American people had to say. The American people think the government in Washington is too big. That it spends too much. And -- and that it's totally out of control. They want something done about it. And I came here 20 years ago to fight for a smaller, less costlier, and more accountable federal government.

DIANE SAWYER: And let me just get a sense on a few of these critical issues, at this moment, where you stand. Jobs. How many -- new jobs can you create and how soon?

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, as a former small businessperson -- I understand what's going on, I think in the business community. And businesspeople around the country are looking at all the spending and all the debt. They're looking at all the policies coming out of this Congress and this administration the last two years, and they -- it's created all this uncertainty. And until the uncertainty starts to go away --

DIANE SAWYER: So, how long will that take? Will it take one -- till February of next year? Will it take --

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I'm hoping that it can start -- yet this year. Let's make sure we extend all of the current tax rates for all Americans. That will begin to reduce the uncertainty.

DIANE SAWYER: Let me ask you about that, because as you know, you've got 60 new members, at least, that identify with the Tea Party. And they have said they want permanent extension of the tax cuts. Permanent. No variations on income for two years. No variations as you go. Are you saying today, it's permanent or nothing? You're going for permanent?

JOHN BOEHNER: Oh, I believe that we ought to extend all of the current tax rates for all Americans. And the extent -- you can make them permanent. People have some idea of how to plan.

DIANE SAWYER: But I think you said once that if you had just one option and that option was -- to take what you could get, basically. Take the middle -- class cut and then wait on the -- the over $250,000 --

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, this is after I answered the question the same way six times. And -- one of your competitors asked me a seventh time the same question. If it was the only option. Listen, I think what's best for the economy and to create jobs is to extend all of the current tax rates -- for all Americans. It -- it begins to reduce the uncertainty. And for small businesspeople, they can look up and begin to plan.

DIANE SAWYER: But if you extend it for one year, for two years, is that okay? Would you do that?

JOHN BOEHNER: I -- I don't think -- that eliminates the uncertainty that's preventing employers from hiring.

DIANE SAWYER: But I guess the question is, will you begin talking about a middle ground or are you saying permanent as far as the eye can see for all income groups --

JOHN BOEHNER: We're gonna have -- we're gonna have -- this debate here in Congress over the next couple of months. Congress is gonna come back in a lame duck session. We have to deal with two issues. Spending and taxes. And I believe that -- extending all the current tax rates for all Americans is the best policy -- given the economic uncertainty that our country faces and the uncertainty the small businesspeople face all around the country.

DIANE SAWYER: But you're not gonna declare this way or the highway, at this point?

JOHN BOEHNER: It's only been 48 hours since the election. I do think that -- my job is to listen to the American people. I'm not -- I don't think Washington has a revenue problem. I think Washington has a spending problem.

DIANE SAWYER: So, you're not gonna rule out some negotiated compromise?

JOHN BOEHNER: I'm gonna make it perfectly clear. I am for extending all of the current tax rates for all Americans.

DIANE SAWYER: But you don't rule out -- if it's your only option --

JOHN BOEHNER: We're -- we're -- we're getting into -- what could be or not be -- it's too early for all that.

DIANE SAWYER: A question about the debt limit, because that is coming and that's a certainty it's coming. And people say there are really two options. If you don't extend the debt limit, and we know in the last vote, Republicans did not vote to extend it, you have the vision of kind of apocalypse of not paying back the debt around the world. And yet, if you do expend it -- extend it, we know that it goes against what Republicans stood for. What are you going to advise?

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, clearly, the -- the debt limit allow -- increasing the debt limit allows our government to meet its obligations. And I think that -- there are multiple options for how you deal with it. But -- for -- our team, I think we're gonna have to demonstrate -- that we've got to have reductions in spending. The government's spending more than what we bring in. We can't afford it.

DIANE SAWYER: But -- you would have to reduce by a trillion dollars to cover what the debt limit elevation would take care of?

JOHN BOEHNER: We're not quite sure when the -- when we're going to face -- this increase in the debt -- debt limit. But when we do -- we'll be ready to meet our obligations.

DIANE SAWYER: One more question about an issue which is health care, as we know. Our exit polling seemed to show that people were pretty divided, about 48 percent said they wanted repeal, about 47 percent said they either wanted it the way it is or even expanded. Is this a mandate to repeal?

JOHN BOEHNER: I don't know if I would call it a mandate -- but I believe -- that Obamacare will ruin the best health care system in the world. And I believe it'll bankrupt our country. And I believe many of my colleagues and new colleagues believe the same. As a result, we believe that it's important to repeal Obamacare and replace it with common sense --

DIANE SAWYER:How sure are you -- you'll get a repeal, a full out repeal of health care?

JOHN BOEHNER: I'm pretty confident -- that -- come next year, we will have the votes to repeal -- that bill. And to replace it with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and expand access.

DIANE SAWYER:I wanted to talk a little bit about your new members coming in. We've been hearing all the commentators say it's gonna be like herding unherdable -- unherdable stampede. It's going to be corralling people. It's really gonna be hard for you, they say, to get these new independent, many of them first time, many of them never worked in government before. To get these people on board.

JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, I heard my constituents -- during this election cycle. I know they heard their constituents. I was -- been in many of their districts. I've talked to their constituents. As long as we're listening to the American people, and abiding by the will of the American people and the Constitution -- I don't -- I think that brings people together, as opposed to dividing them.

DIANE SAWYER: But is it gonna be complicated? What -- what -- you -- you're a management expert. What's the managerial lesson for dealing with -- with what's going to arise?

JOHN BOEHNER: Growing up with 11 brothers and sisters. And working in my dad's bar. All the lessons I learned growing up are the lessons I need to do my job. He grew up in a big family. Have to learn to get along with each other. Learn to get things done together, get things done as a family. And you grow up around a bar like I did, mopping floors and doing dishes, waiting tables. Tendin' bar. You learn to deal with every character that walks in the door. Trust me, all the skills I learned growing up are the skills I need to do my job.

DIANE SAWYER: I have to ask you about Sarah Palin, because today she put out an ad which basically -- basically indicates that she, the party -- the people she endorsed are the ones to celebrate this victory. And I'm just gonna play short excerpts of it. In case you didn't see it.


DIANE SAWYER: What do you think?

JOHN BOEHNER: Welcome to -- a lot of -- new people being active in politics. You know, I've been to my fair share of Tea Party events and -- over the course of the last year have been in -- over 100 congressional districts and talked to a lot of Tea Party activists along the way. And you'd really be surprised, they're -- most of them are the most normal, everyday people you've ever met. None of them have ever been involved in the political process before. I think we as Americans ought to welcome that participation. I think it's going to reinvigorate our democracy. And be a really good thing for the country.

DIANE SAWYER: She had said at one point, basically, "Whoa" to the -- to the Republican machine that doesn't think it has to follow essentially the Tea Party mandate.

JOHN BOEHNER: So, I told m -- my colleagues -- going back almost a year ago -- that I thought was important to talk to the Tea Party people. To work with them. And to walk among -- walk amongst them. And our -- our members and our candidates, by and large, did that. And having spent a lot of time -- with Tea Party activists. I can tell you they -- they are the most down to earth, ordinary people -- who want the same thing -- for our country -- as -- Republicans, Democrats. They want to make sure that American Dream is alive and well for their kids and grandkids.

DIANE SAWYER: What about --

JOHN BOEHNER: And they -- and they see -- they see all the spending and all the debt and the growing size of government as a threat to that, as do I.

DIANE SAWYER: You're not -- you're not anticipating any problem?


DIANE SAWYER: What about your counterpart, as we know, today he issued a statement basically defending and reinforcing what he had said before. "The most important thing we have to achieve is for Barack Obama to be a one-term President." Do you agree? Is that the most important thing you have to achieve?

JOHN BOEHNER: That's Senator McConnell's statement. And -- and his opinion. 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 -- and staying focused on what the American People want us to focus on -- is my number one priority.

DIANE SAWYER: A few personal questions, if I can. Brought this with me.

JOHN BOEHNER: Oh, yeah. I've seen that picture before. I'm the little brown one. (LAUGH)

DIANE SAWYER: When you -- what, 12 brothers and sisters in a two-bedroom house?

JOHN BOEHNER: It was -- it was -- it was -- it was exciting every day, all day. But, you know, my parents were -- they're the most easygoing people that you have ever met. And one of I think the greatest -- gifts they gave me was that of patience. I mean, at -- it would be after dinner, we'd all be wrestling on the living room floor and my mother and father would sit there and read the paper and -- like nothing was going on. And as I got into high school, it used to drive me crazy. (LAUGH) I found out that -- patience is a good thing.

DIANE SAWYER: But was that -- that little boy, sitting in that front row --

JOHN BOEHNER: Yeah, it's --

DIANE SAWYER: -- sitting on the evening of what you're about to do?

JOHN BOEHNER: I know. It's -- it's really quite an honor. And I'm -- I'm humbled -- by the opportunity that I've been given.

DIANE SAWYER: We saw the emotion in the last few days.

JOHN BOEHNER: Oh, you -- everybody knows I can get emotional from time to time.

DIANE SAWYER: Have you seen this? Is that a trajectory? (LAUGH)

JOHN BOEHNER:I did just see this. A fella taking a thousand photos of me. I didn't know who he was. And finally I just gave him that frown. Of course, that's the one they're gonna use. And I told him. I said, "This is the one you're gonna use." I told him.

DIANE SAWYER: Are there lessons from your parents? You were telling me that -- you've never had any debt. Any debt of any kind in your life.

JOHN BOEHNER: No. Germans. You know, we -- we're savers, we're not spenders. And -- well, I wouldn't describe myself as a penny pincher. In -- I don't mind spending money --

DIANE SAWYER: No mortgage? No --

JOHN BOEHNER: Ah, no, no. I -- I -- 15 years, paid it off, and that was the end of that. No, I -- I just -- debt is not something that -- has ever made me comfortable. And this national debt makes me very uncomfortable.

DIANE SAWYER: What's the main thing you want to say to them? Those grandparents and those parents?

JOHN BOEHNER: Just -- thanks for, you know, all the -- the values that they taught me. And they -- you know, we're simple people. We worked hard. Work hard. And -- and make your way in life. I -- I tell my colleagues the same things my parents told me that I told my kids. "You do the right thing every day -- for the right reasons, the right things will happen. You don't have to worry about it."

DIANE SAWYER: I know there's someone else that probably people that -- across the country don't know, but you have dedicated in some ways this victory to her. Paula Nowakowski, your chief of staff.

JOHN BOEHNER: My long time -- chief of staff. Passed away suddenly back in January. And so, we dedicated -- this year to her. She was -- believed strongly in her Catholic faith. Everything Polish. And everything about the Detroit Red Wings. And -- she was just a very strong woman, who ran my operation for a long time. And -- dedicated the year to her.

DIANE SAWYER: What is the role Catholicism plays in your life?

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, it's given me a real foundation of faith. And -- while I don't wear it on my shirt sleeve -- I have -- deep abiding faith in our Lord.

DIANE SAWYER: Do you think back ever to President Obama over and over again invoking your name on the campaign trail these last few days?


DIANE SAWYER: Heading into it?


DIANE SAWYER: Saying, "No new ideas." Your name was out there over and over.

JOHN BOEHNER: I know. Listen, it's politics. You know, when you get into the election season, there are a lot of things that get -- a lot of hyperbolists running around. It's just comes with it. I just let it run off my back like a duck.

DIANE SAWYER: Somebody did say this morning they -- they wrote -- I think it was Russell Berman in The Hill. He did say that you do have a common bond [with President Obama], which is a fondness for golf, struggle with smoking, and yet, there's no sense that you've really connected over the years as human beings.

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, we just really haven't spent much time together. You know? He -- he came and spent four years in the Senate. We didn't have a lot of contact -- with junior Senators. And -- when he was elected to the White House with big Democrat majorities in the House and Senate. And, you know, they tended to go their own way. There were a couple of perfunctory meetings along the way where he invited us down and asked for our ideas. But there really hasn't been the opportunity to spend -- any time together.

DIANE SAWYER: A Slurpee summit in the future? (LAUGH)

JOHN BOEHNER: I don't know about a Slurpee. How about a glass of merlot? (LAUGH)

DIANE SAWYER: And before we leave you, what do you want the American people to know that being Speaker of the House would mean to you?

JOHN BOEHNER: I'm a regular guy with a big job. And I didn't come to Washington because I wanted to be a congressman. I came here to do something. And I don't need to be the Speaker of the House because I need a big title. I'd like to be the Speaker of the House to do something. And that's very simple. I want to cut spending, create jobs -- repeal health care, and fix the institution of the Congress itself. The place is broken. And I've watched both parties contribute -- to the -- building up the scar tissue between the two parties, especially here in the House. And I want an opportunity to heal the House and restore the institution of the Congress -- for the American people. Because if we're serious about taking on the big challenges that face our country -- I think it's important that we have a healthy institution where parties really can work together. Where people can -- work together across -- the aisle. And it's not that -- I'm gonna violate my principles, I just think a more open process, a more accountable process -- here in the House would serve the interest of all members -- and represent the interest of all Americans.

DIANE SAWYER: What do you think history will say about the Pelosi four years?

JOHN BOEHNER: I think it's -- too early to -- to predict -- what it will say. Other than -- than the partisanship got worse not better.

DIANE SAWYER: Well, again, congressman, congratulations.

JOHN BOEHNER: Thank you.

DIANE SAWYER: It's -- it was history making.

JOHN BOEHNER: It was. It was a fun night. And I enjoyed it.

DIANE SAWYER: Anything personally you do to -- to commemorate it? 'Cause I know you don't feel it's for celebration, it's for getting to work. But to commemorate it?

JOHN BOEHNER: Maybe in January, when it all happens.

DIANE SAWYER: We keep reading in the paper that people are already campaigning. And the Tea Party has said, "We want a leadership post." Members have said. Will there be a Tea Party member in the leadership? And will Michelle -- is Michele Bachmann your choice to be in that fourth position?

JOHN BOEHNER: Well, we have a lot of people -- who've announced -- their intention to run for a leadership post. These decisions are made by all of the Republican members of our conference. And -- who -- who the members decide ought to be in their leadership -- is their decision. And I'm gonna respect that decision.

DIANE SAWYER: But because you are looking for cohesion -- is your instinct that it would be better to have a Tea Party member in the leadership?

JOHN BOEHNER: My instinct is that we have -- a leadership table -- that reflects -- the broad -- group of members that are in our conference.

DIANE SAWYER: So, that says Tea Party?

JOHN BOEHNER: It says I want to make sure they represent -- the broad interest of all of our members. We're gonna have --

DIANE SAWYER: But it's fine with you? For sure?

JOHN BOEHNER: Whoever the members elect -- I'm going to serve with. And serve with successfully.

DIANE SAWYER: I think your instinct says that you are in no way going to answer my question.

JOHN BOEHNER: That'd be correct. (LAUGH) I should have just given you the Boehner shrug. All of the print reporters know what that means.

DIANE SAWYER: It means try as you might?

JOHN BOEHNER: I have no intention of answering that question (LAUGH)

DIANE SAWYER: It's a great gesture.

JOHN BOEHNER: I never even knew it. The reporter's all know it, oh they all got it and someone finally told me somebody described it as the Boehner shrug.

DIANE SAWYER: I'm going to try it, I'm going to try and steal it. Do it again.

JOHN BOEHNER: It's got everything -- eyebrows, shoulders.

DIANE SAWYER: Thanks again.

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