John Boehner: 'Thank God I'm not in the middle of this'

Ex-House Speaker talks Trump, politics with WCPO

CINCINNATI -- Looking back, John Boehner got out of politics at just the right time.

Speaking to WCPO's Carol Williams in an exclusive interview this week, the former speaker of the House said he had "no regrets" about resigning from Congress after 13 terms last year.

 

"There's nothing I would change about when I left or how I left," he said.

With the combative political atmosphere of the past year, Boehner said he enjoyed being able to follow the news without actually having to deal with any of it himself. 

"Every day I'd watch it and was like, 'Thank God I'm not in the middle of this,'" he said. "It was the most bizarre political year that we've seen in 100 years."

We’re in store for a 'wild ride'

Expanding on the current state of politics and Donald Trump's win in the presidential election, Boehner said he believes a "political revolution" is underway in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

He said the U.S. has had eight years of almost no economic growth and the standard of living for the middle class has been dropping. 

"There's a lot of frustration here and elsewhere around the world," Boehner said. "You take the new media that allows people to communicate with each other, organize themselves, and you've got a pretty wild ride.

"Anybody that thinks (these) last 12 months were as wild as we've seen, just saddle up and watch ... because there's no reason to think the next 12 months are going to be any less crazy."

 

While Boehner's day isn't directly affected by what's in the news any more, he still made headlines a few times during this election season. 

While speaking at Stanford University in April, Boehner called then-presidential hopeful Ted Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh" and a "miserable son of a bitch." He stands by those comments now that he no longer has to maintain a politician's tact.

"I don't have to be quite as tactful. Because he was Lucifer in the flesh; the most miserable person I ever had to work with," Boehner said of Cruz.

Boehner also jumped back into the headlines less than a month before Election Day, when he said Trump is "barely a Republican." 

He stands by those comments today, too.

"Donald Trump is kind of a Republican, and he's kind of a Democrat," Boehner said. "There's no orthodoxy here and there's no ideology here."

But that doesn't mean Boehner doesn't like Trump, calling them "texting buddies" who have played a lot of golf together over the years.

"When I was speaker, if I was having a tough week, I'd always get a call from Donald," Boehner said. "He'd pat me on the back, cheer me up. He's a good guy."

Boehner added that in private, Trump is "not at all different" from the Trump known to the public. He compared the president-elect's style to that of President Teddy Roosevelt, "another guy who saw himself larger than life."

"If you look at what Teddy Roosevelt did, he came in to do big things. Donald Trump isn't there to trim around the edges and occupy the White House," Boehner said. "I think Donald Trump wants to do big things, and I think he understands doing big things means, you have to find a way to work in a bipartisan manner, because big things don't happen on one side of the aisle."

Boehner said he also expected Trump would be able to levy his populist support in order to get things done. 

"Trump will take his case to the American people. Trump beat 16 people in the Republican primary. He beat a very successful, very popular Democrat candidate," Boehner said. "And he did so because he actually understood what the American people were thinking, and what a majority of them were feeling.

"If I were Trump and I were going to try to do something big, I'd take my case right to the American people, let the American people put pressure on their representatives."

Boehner also said he expects many Democrats will be "interested in playing ball" with the GOP-controlled government leading to the 2018 election, even if it means repealing and transitioning from the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- to a new healthcare system.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with John Boehner during a meeting with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on November 16, 2012. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

Even though he and President Barack Obama have "butted heads" on some issues, Boehner said he believed they had a positive relationship and hoped leaders would continue that in the Trump administration.

"I think it's really important for the leaders in Congress and the president to have a relationship that is trusting, where you can work together even if you don't agree," he said.

From businessman to House speaker

After serving as a Union Township trustee and member of the Ohio General Assembly, Boehner was first elected to Congress in 1990. During his time in Congress, Boehner was one of the "Gang of Seven" who forced leaders to address scandals, served as the chairman of the House Republican Conference, helped write the No Child Left Behind Act and served in leadership roles for the final nine years of his time in office. 

When Boehner last sat down for an extended interview with WCPO in 2010, he said, "I've been chasing the American Dream my whole life." 

Has he achieved it?

"Yup, I think so," he said. "For a kid who's got 11 brothers and sisters, my dad owned a bar, it's been a pretty good run."

 

But looking back, Boehner said the thing he was most proud of was remaining "the same guy I was when I walked in."

"I had a successful business career. I never thought I'd ever be in politics, but I got involved in my neighborhood homeowners' association 40 years ago and I ended up the speaker of the House," Boehner said. "I tell audiences, 'This, too, could happen to you.' But I was never into the legacy mode. I think my proudest accomplishment is, after all these years in politics, I'm pretty much the same guy...I always wanted to just be me."

Another proud accomplishment: helping to bring Pope Francis to address Congress. It was the first time a pope addressed a joint session of Congress. 

Pope Francis walks with John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden, after delivering an address to a joint session of Congress on September 24, 2015. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Boehner shared a humorous story from the visit. As a meeting with the pope and several cardinals was ending, his family, including his newborn grandson, joined them. Boehner had been hoping to arrange for the pope to baptize the child, but it hadn't been easy to organize.

"The Vatican has a 2,000-year head start on bureaucracy over the U.S.," he joked.

Then, Pope Francis asked his assistant for a glass of water.

"So I watch his assistant go get this glass of water and bring it back. The pope takes it in his right hand, puts it in the left hand," Boehner said. "I'm waiting for him to bless it. And he just took a drink."

Laughing, he continued: "I almost died. I was convinced he was going to baptize him right there."

 

It was later that day that Boehner starting thinking about leaving Congress. He announced his resignation the next day.

"I told my staff a long time ago, 'If you see me walking around here when I'm 70 years old, shoot me,'" Boehner said. "I'm just not going to be one of those people who's going to be here forever."

How's life for John Boehner now?

Returning to private life has been an adjustment for Boehner, who received Secret Service protection as speaker of the House. He joked about how, when he was supposed to meet friends for a round of golf, he drove to the wrong course.

"I never used to have to know where I was going. I always knew where I was going, but I didn't really have to know," Boehner said.

But Boehner has been busy. He's been splitting his time between his native Cincinnati area home and Florida, where he was able to spend lots of time with his grandchildren over the winter. 

 

Back north in the spring, Boehner said he was stopping by the hardware store "every morning."

"After not having been around the house a great deal over the years, I fixed everything," he said. "All spring and summer I was busy fixing."

He also hasn't totally retired. Boehner has taken some public speaking gigs, has joined the board of cigarette maker Reynolds American Inc. and has done some strategic consulting for law and lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs.

"I'm still trying to figure this out," Boehner said. "Sitting around doing nothing isn't going to work. I can't play golf every day. I can't go fishing every day. So, I'm just trying to figure out how much to do. But so far, it's going pretty well."