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Former House Speaker John Boehner reflects on path from Southwest Ohio to Washington and back

Republican Party in disarray as Boehner quits
Posted at 9:06 PM, Apr 22, 2021

John Boehner considers himself a nice guy. He says he rarely, if ever, yelled at staffers. But in his new book, “On the House: A Washington Memoir” the former Speaker of the House and Congressman from West Chester does not hold back when talking about the people in Washington he worked with who he feels are “the crazies."

“I spent my whole life being upfront, frank, candid," Boehner told WCPO 9 News’ Tanya O’Rourke. “And I can… be respectful. But I've always found that it's easier to say it the way it is, be upfront with people and move on. And when I wrote the book, I was committed to myself that this book was going to be me. It was gonna sound like me. And it is.”

Take, for example, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

“What I say in the book is, there's nothing worse than a reckless jackass who thinks he's smarter than everybody else," he told O’Rourke. "He's one of these guys, the epitome of I think what's wrong in Washington these days on both sides of the aisle."

“They want to draw attention to themselves," he continued. "They create chaos. They bring more attention to themselves, they raise money. And I think that makes them more powerful. And I went to Washington thinking that my job was to work with my colleagues to get something done on behalf of our country... But some people don't quite look at it that way. And, you know, on any given day, I had a couple dozen of these knuckleheads in my own caucus that I had to deal with. And, you know, it's just the way it was.”

Listen to Tanya O'Rourke's full conversation with Former House Speaker Boehner:

Boehner’s book pulls back the curtain on “the way it was” while he was in Congress. He was often in the proverbial “room where it happened” and chronicles the wheeling and dealing, working with Democrats and Republicans to reach compromise. Compromise, Boehner admits, is severely lacking in Washington the past several years.

“America is divided,” he told O’Rourke. “And as a result, the Congress is divided. As a matter of fact, it's about evenly divided the Senate is 50-50, the House is virtually 50-50. And Joe Biden got elected -- and frankly, narrowly. And members, at the end of the day, reflect their constituents. I'll be more honest, they reflect the loudest voices in their constituency. So on the Democrat side, you know, the left of the left. Republican side, it's the right of the right. And, the American people -- or I should say, these loud voices -- are holding members and the leaders a hostage to their own agenda.”

Boehner said he hopes President Biden changes the tone in the nation’s capital and reaches across to Republicans for help passing legislation.

“I've known him for 30 years,” said Boehner. “He's a good guy. And though even though we disagree on some things, he and I have been able to work out hundreds of things, especially the five years I was speaker. But he's had chances over the first 100 days to reach across the aisle. But, he knows that if he does, the far left is just gonna take his head off.”

As for the previous president, Boehner details in his book how he tried to advise Donald Trump. But the former president took his calls fewer and fewer times over the years, Boehner said. He had known Trump from the golf course and told O’Rourke his impression of Trump was made there.

"After all the years we spent together and all the golf we would play together, I never once thought I was looking at the future president of the United States," he said.

So, considering the direction of the Republican party, does he still consider himself a Republican?

“I'm a Republican," he said. "I just want Republicans to start acting more like Republicans. So how is that going to happen? Like goes back to being the following the principles of what it means to be a republican fiscal responsibility, strong national defense, free and fair trade, things that embody what it means to be a Republican. And if we get to focusing on our principles of the Republican Party, the personalities will go away and some of the factions will go away. And, and we'll have a chance to take the country forward with a Republican majority.”

Boehner also takes aim at the media in his new book. Specifically, he takes on partisan national news outlets.

“Between talk radio and cable TV, there's a lot of noise. Some are true, some are not true, and it's hard to get at what the facts are. It's hard to get to the truth these days. I don't watch any national news on TV -- no, zero, not. I read every morning for about an hour. I read them, [a] pretty wide array of publications to try to figure out really what's going on, not somebody's version of what's going on."

Boehner grew up in Reading, the son of a bar owner. His youth was spent helping at the bar and earning a buck wherever he could. In his book, he details much of his life in Cincinnati, and how the people, his religion and his high school, Moeller, impacted him.

"We're pretty fortunate to grow up and are a part of the country where, you know, we got basic American values, people are nice," he told O'Rourke. "And, frankly, I think it provided a great foundation.“

Boehner announced his retirement the day after Pope Francis spoke to Congress in 2015.

“The Capitol was just aglow," he said. "Democrats, Republicans, House and everybody was happy. It might have been the happiest day I saw in the 25 years.”

So, he said, it wasn’t going to get better than that -- he might as well announce his retirement. Since retirement, Boehner spends half the year in Florida, half at his home in West Chester where he walks every day and waters the flowers.

“I like the look of flowers,” he said.

He also says he doesn’t regret retiring. It was time, and he can now focus on being, “the best grandfather I can be” to his two grandsons.