House Speaker John Boehner called Russia’s President Vladimir Putin “a thug” and urged the Obama administration to do more to safeguard the interests of the U.S. and its allies in Europe.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, accused Putin of treating Russia’s neighbors in a “disrespectful way.” The lawmaker said in an interview on NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” that he hasn’t met the Russian leader and doesn’t want to.
President Barack Obama “ought to stand up to him and better protect America’s interests and our allies, especially in Eastern Europe,” Boehner said in the interview, which was broadcast overnight in the U.S.
“I don’t believe that such a high-ranking lawmaker could have said such a thing,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
Boehner said in the interview that it “may or may not be true” that former government contractor Edward Snowden may have worked with Russia in exposing classified U.S. spying programs, as asserted by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican.
“All I can say is that I think Snowden is traitor to the country,” Boehner said.
Snowden, who faces theft and espionage charges for leaking classified documents to the press last year, is residing in Russia under temporary asylum.
The House speaker said that while the National Security Agency “may have made mistakes” in carrying out surveillance activities, it exists to keep Americans safe. “We’re going to take a look at what needs to be tweaked,” he said.
Boehner also said he and Obama have “a very good working relationship,” days before the president is to deliver on Jan. 28 his annual State of the Union address from the House chamber.
“We get along fine, but, you know, we come at this at our jobs from a very different perspective,” Boehner said. “I’m right of center, I think he’s way left of center.”
The speaker discussed the recent budget fights between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, including the standoff that led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October.
Boehner called the shutdown a “predictable disaster,” and said Tea Party-affiliated Republicans ignored his warnings that shutting down the government over the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would backfire politically.
“When you have my job, there’s something you have to learn,” Boehner said. “When I looked up, I saw my colleagues going this way. And you learn that a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.”
Boehner said the Republicans were right to push for delaying portions of the health-care law they said weren’t ready to be rolled out. “I just thought tactically it was not the right way to do it” to force the shutdown, he said.
Following that fight, U.S. lawmakers in December passed a budget deal and then in January passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
The next test will come in late February, when according to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew the federal debt limit must be raised. While Boehner has insisted that the U.S. won’t default on its obligations, he and other House Republicans have said they want political concessions from Obama in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling.
The White House and Senate Democrats have said they won’t negotiate on the debt limit. House Republicans plan to decide on their strategy at an annual retreat next week.
When asked by Leno if he ever thought about running for president, Boehner said no.
“Listen, I like to play golf. I like to cut my own grass,” he said. “I do drink red wine. I smoke cigarettes. And I’m not giving that up to be the president of the United States.”