- Ryan is best choice to lead Republicans, outgoing speaker says
- Boehner faults party elements trying to `out-right' each other
A day before giving up the gavel symbolizing his office, John Boehner jabbed at the hard-line Republican faction and larger forces in American politics that helped drive him into quitting as U.S. House speaker.
“Understand what’s going on here,” he said, when asked about pressure he’d faced in recent years from conservatives. Unlike when he entered Congress two decades ago, there now are hundreds of radio hosts “trying to out-right each other” along with social media propelling voters into different camps, he said.
That has boosted “the ability of a small group of members, or some small outside organizations, to stir up antics or mislead people,” the Ohio Republican told a small group of reporters gathered in his office on Wednesday.
Boehner, who had held the speakership since 2011, formally handed the reins on Thursday to Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who won election by the full House and was sworn in before noon. Before the vote, Boehner brought a box of tissues with him to the rostrum and dabbed at his eyes during brief remarks to a packed House chamber.
“I leave with no regrets,” he said, adding that he was “just a regular guy humbled by the chance to do a big job.”
In his remarks to colleagues and guests on Thursday, Boehner recalled how Ryan had helped his 1990 bid for Congress by putting up campaign signs. “I wish Paul and his family all the best,” he said.
A day earlier, in his exit interview with reporters, Boehner struck a cautionary note, saying that he had already warned Ryan that the speaker’s office “is the loneliest place in the world.”
“Almost as lonely as the presidency,” said Boehner, 65, who entered Congress in 1991 and leaves office within days. He said the job keeps “you away from friends and family.”
With that remark, he was referring to one of Ryan’s chief objections to taking the job: the concern that its extensive fundraising and travel duties would tear him away from his wife and children. In agreeing to run, Ryan, 45, told fellow Republicans he wanted them to unify behind him, end leadership crises and let him continue spending time with his family.
“Paul Ryan is the right person to lead the team at this time,” Boehner said, referring to the Ways and Means committee chairman who earlier Wednesday won the Republican conference’s nomination to be speaker.
In the interview, Boehner spoke with pride over the debt-ceiling and budget framework that he helped fashion in his final days as speaker. The plan, passed on Wednesday by the House, ends years of fiscal battles with President Barack Obama that twice brought the nation to the brink of default and led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013. Completing the budget deal with the Obama administration and Democrats had to be done, he said.
“Leaving this for the next speaker was not at all fair,” Boehner said. “So, I did everything I could to make sure it happened.”
Boehner also highlighted his role in ridding Congress of the so-called member items -- provisions that in the past allowed lawmakers to specify money for their pet projects. Among the regrets he mentioned was the failure to close an earlier budget deal with Obama in 2011, something he said “still stings.”
On another topic, he offered advice on how to create a more honest political system, proposing that all current campaign finance laws be replaced with one simple standard mandating full disclosure of all political spending.
Drive a Car
“Any dollar you spend on behalf of a candidate has to be disclosed,” he said. “Let sunlight be the best disinfectant.”
Boehner blamed the 2002 campaign law known as McCain-Feingold -- for its sponsors, senators John McCain and Russ Feingold -- for having taken “money out of parties and forced it into these independent organizations who are accountable to no one,” he said.
“These limits. They don’t work. People go around them,” he said.
Boehner planned to submit his letters of resignation on Thursday, after Ryan was sworn in as speaker. The first will be sent to Ohio Governor John Kasich and the second will be delivered to Ryan. The letters will inform them that he’ll resign his congressional seat effective Oct. 31 at 11:59 p.m.
He declined to say what he will do outside of Congress -- whether he’ll stay involved in politics or even write a book. “A little this, a little that,” is all he would say.
One thing he acknowledged looking forward to doing is getting his hands on the wheel of a car, since he’ll be without a security detail for the first time in several years.
Does he even have a car? Not yet, Boehner said, adding that he plans to buy one.
Boehner will have more time to spend with his first grandchild, born in August. He was asked what he wanted his grandson to call him.
“Mr. Speaker,” he joked.