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Posted at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 24, 2014
In between quips about his tan complexion and common mispronunciations of his name, Speaker John A. Boehner acknowledged, in a Thursday evening interview with comedian Jay Leno, that Republicans were to blame for the government shutdown.
“It was a very predictable disaster, and the sooner we got it over with, the better,” the Ohio Republican said during his televised appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
“I told my colleagues in July I didn’t think shutting down the government over Obamacare would work because the President said, ‘I’m not going to negotiate,'” Boehner continued. “And so I told them in August ‘Probably not a good idea.’ Told them in early September. But when you have my job, there’s something you have to learn … 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 … So I said, ‘You want to fight this fight? I’ll go fight the fight with you.'”
Boehner has come close in the past to placing responsibility for the shutdown on his conference’s rank and file, saying definitively that he did not orchestrate the strategy to withhold votes on a bill to fund the government until Democrats agreed to scale back the 2010 health law.
He also, in no uncertain terms, lashed out at conservative outside groups like Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth for their role in spurring members on in a fight they could not win.
This is the first time, however, that Congress’s most powerful Republican has spoken with such a degree of candor about the episode.
In the wide-ranging interview with Leno on Thursday, Boehner also spoke about the challenges of his job as Speaker.
“Some members, I have to be the big brother figure,” he explained. “Some, I have to be the father figure. Others, I have to be the dean of students or the principal. Some of them, I have to be the Gestapo.
“I like to describe my job as trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill,” he said.
Asked by Leno whether the party infighting was the worst Boehner has seen it in his years on Capitol Hill, Boehner hesitated.
“Oh no, it’s — well, maybe it is,” he said. “Probably. Yeah, probably.”
Amidst laughter, Boehner added, “It’s bad.”
“But … you know, the funny thing about the so-called infighting is that we agree on all the goals,” Boehner clarified. “We think Obamacare is bad for the country. We think we shouldn’t spend more than we bring in. We think the President is ignoring the law. It’s a fight over tactics. It’s not over what our goals are.”
Asked about Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, widely criticized by establishment Republicans for helping spur on the House GOP’s shutdown strategy with his hours-long filibuster-like Senate floor speech, Boehner described him as a “good guy.”
“Ted Cruz used to be my attorney a long time ago,” he added, by way of trivia.
Though Boehner spends much of his days criticizing President Barack Obama in public for pushing policies Republicans purport are damaging to the American people, Boehner said the two men actually have a good rapport.
“We get along fine,” said Boehner, while acknowledging that “we come at … our jobs from a very different perspective.”
And who might Boehner like to see in the White House in 2016? He wouldn’t offer up an explicit endorsement, but he would name at least one possible contender of whom he was a fan.
“Well, listen, I’m not endorsing anybody,” Boehner said. “[Former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush is my friend, and I, frankly, think he’d make a great president.”
As for Boehner himself? His political ambitions probably stop with the Speakership.
“Listen, I like to play golf,” he told Leno. “I like to cut my own grass. You know, I do drink red wine. I smoke cigarettes. And I’m not giving that up to be the President of the United States.”