The Republican Leaders: Boehner and McConnell
The following is a script from "The Republican Leaders" which aired on Jan. 25, 2015. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Nicole Young, producer.
For the first time, the president faces a House and Senate controlled by the Republican Party. Two men will decide which part of President Obama's agenda becomes law. They are the Speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio, and the new Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. This past week we sat down with them at the Capitol for their first joint interview since the big Republican gains in the midterm election. They had just heard the president lay out his vision.
[Obama: I have no more campaigns to run. My only agenda... (applause) I know because I won both of 'em.]
Scott Pelley: What was your impression of the president's State of the Union speech?
Mitch McConnell: My first thought it was it sounded like he was running for a third term. He seemed to have-- completely forgotten or chose to ignore-- the election last November. He was looking out at an audience that had 80 more Republicans in it than his first State of the Union.
Scott Pelley: Mr. Speaker, I think your reaction to the State of the Union was written all over your face. It must be a hell of a thing to sit behind the president knowing that 30 million Americans are watching you for an hour. Do you practice that scowl?
John Boehner: No. I stare at the back of the president's head. And my goal is to make no news. This is the president's night and so I sit there and try to make no news. Although, inside, I've got a lotta things rollin' through my mind.
[Obama: Our deficit's cut by two thirds. A stock market that has doubled and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years. This is good news people.]
Scott Pelley: Unemployment has fallen to 5.6 percent, gasoline prices are down, the stock markets are up. The economy grew by five percent in the third quarter. That's the fastest rate in more than a decade. You don't congratulate the president for that?
Mitch McConnell: Look, things are getting better. But the point is who is benefiting from this? This has been a top of the income recovery-- the so-called one percent that the president's always talking about have done quite well. But middle and lower income Americans are about $3,000 a year worse off than they were when he came to office.
Scott Pelley: Is income inequality a problem in this country? Is it a problem that Republicans want to address?
John Boehner: It is. And frankly the president's policies have made income inequality worse. All the regulations that are coming out of Washington make it more difficult for employers to hire more people, chief amongst those, I would argue is Obamacare-- which basically puts a penalty or a tax on employers for every new job they create.
Scott Pelley: From the president's State of the Union address let me ask you, dead or alive, raise taxes on the wealthy?
John Boehner: Why would he want to raise taxes on people?
Scott Pelley: I'll take that as a dead.
John Boehner: Dead, real dead.
Scott Pelley: Make community college free of charge, dead or alive?
Mitch McConnell: We added more debt during the Obama years than all the presidents from George Washington down to George Bush. And giving away free tuition strikes me as something we can't afford.
Scott Pelley: I'll put that down as dead as well. Increasing the federal minimum wage?
John Boehner: Bad idea.
Scott Pelley: Dead?
"We added more debt during the Obama years than all the presidents from George Washington down to George Bush. And giving away free tuition strikes me as something we can't afford."
John Boehner: It's a bad idea. I've had every kinda rotten job you can imagine growin' up and gettin' myself through school. And-- and I wouldn't have had a chance at half those jobs if the federal government had kept imposing higher minimum wage. You take the bottom rungs off the economic ladder.
Scott Pelley: Finally, dead or alive, tripling the childcare tax credit for working families?
John Boehner: We're all for helping working class families around America. I think we'll take a look at this when he sends his budget up, something that could be looked at in the overall context of simplifying our tax code and bringing rates down for everyone.
Mitch McConnell: I would just add trade. Virtually every Republican in the audience the other night stood up and applauded when the president talked about trade.
Scott Pelley: Speaking to folks at the White House the other day, they told us that one of the areas they thought there was a chance for progress is on infrastructure in this country; roads and bridges. What do you think?
John Boehner: We agree. You know, the biggest problem I have is that the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by gasoline taxes, continues to shrink as cars get more and better mileage standards. And so the money that's in the Highway Trust Fund isn't sufficient to meet the infrastructure needs of the country.
Scott Pelley: You can fix that. You can raise the gas tax. Hasn't been raised in decades.
John Boehner: Well, listen. When the Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House, they couldn't increase the gas tax. We believe that through tax reform, a couple of other options that are being looked at, we can find the funds to fund a long-term, highway bill. It's critically important to the country.
The Republicans leaders also told us they intend to take initiative on foreign policy.
Scott Pelley: Will you pass additional sanctions on Iran to stop their nuclear program?
John Boehner: Very concerned about the Iranians, the threat that they could be developing a nuclear weapon. And I believe, and I think, the House believes that more sanctions, if they don't come to an agreement, are in order.
Scott Pelley: The president said in his speech that you will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails if you do that.
John Boehner: I disagree with the president.
Mitch McConnell: Under the proposal we're considering those enhanced sanctions would only occur if a deal is not reached. In other words it further incentivizes the Iranians to reach an agreement because they know things could get considerably worse if they did not.
Scott Pelley: Mr. Speaker, the day after the State of the Union Address, you invited the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a critic of the president's foreign policy, to come to speak to a joint session of Congress. You blindsided the White House with that.
John Boehner: I gave 'em a heads up that morning. But there's nobody in the world who can talk about the threat of radical terrorism, nobody can talk about the threat that the Iranians pose, not just to the Middle East and to and to Israel, our longest ally but to the entire world, but Bibi Netanyahu.
Scott Pelley: Was that some kind of a brush back pitch, sort of telling the president, "Look, if you're gonna go your own way on foreign policy, two can play at that game"?
John Boehner: The president didn't spend but a few seconds talking about the threat, the terrorist threat that we as Americans face. This problem is growing all over the world. And you know, the president is trying to act like it's not there. But it is there. And it's going to be a threat to our homeland if we don't address it in a bigger way.
[Obama: And, tonight I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.]
Scott Pelley: Will you pass a measure authorizing the use of force against ISIS?
John Boehner: We will.
Scott Pelley: Will your measure outlaw ground troops?
John Boehner: Well, we'll have a discussion with the members and with the White House on whether that's appropriate. But I don't want to limit the president's ability to take on the terrorist threat directly.
"The president didn't spend but a few seconds talking about the threat, the terrorist threat that we as Americans face. This problem is growing all over the world. And you know, the president is trying to act like it's not there. But it is there."
Mitch McConnell: I think what is required is that we defeat ISIS. And, as John indicated, it will require boots on the ground. The question is whose boots? And I think it'd be a very foolish mistake for us to say in advance what we won't do. And nobody's advocating a use of American ground troops there at this point. But why in the world would we want to send a message to our enemies what we will or won't do in the future?
[Obama: Today our immigration system is broken.]
We also wondered about the president's decision to by-pass Congress with his own immigration reform.
Scott Pelley: The president has temporarily protected about 5 million illegal immigrants in this country from deportation. The House just passed a bill to block that. And I wonder, Mr. Leader, are you gonna pass a similar bill in the Senate?
Mitch McConnell: Well, you know, the president said on 22 different occasions that he didn't have the authority to do what he did. Of course the 22 occasions occurred before last November's election. Since the election's outta the way, he did exactly what he said he didn't have the authority to do. So we will try to pass the House bill when it comes over to us. And I think it'll be vigorously supported by the vast majority of my members.
Scott Pelley: He's gonna veto that bill if it reaches his desk. Is that governing, just sending bills up to the White House that are gonna get vetoed?
Mitch McConnell: Look, can I say something about vetoes? The president's vetoed two bills in six years. Two little bills over technicalities. The reason was the Senate never sent him anything that caused him any discomfort. In our system it's, it's gonna happen occasionally. Presidents veto bills there are differences of opinion between Congress and presidents that's not unheard of in our system.
Scott Pelley: President Obama's job approval rating is 46 percent. It's pretty poor. But the job approval rating for the Congress is 15 percent. What do you say to the 85 percent of the American people who think you're doing a lousy job?
Mitch McConnell: I would say they're right. Hey, I wouldn't vote to approve this Congress. And from a Senate perspective, I can-- I can tell you the Senate has been essentially dysfunctional for four years. I mean, it's basically been shut down. And these guys on the House side have passed lots and lots of legislation, it would come over to the Senate, and literally nothing would happen. I mean, absolutely, nothing.
John Boehner: Over the last few years, we sent 400 bills over to the Senate that never received action. Almost all of 'em passed on a bipartisan basis. Never got considered.
That's because, as you would expect, the previous Democratic Senate leadership used tactics to hamstring bills from the Republican House. Now with both chambers in Republican hands McConnell says, more bills are going to get a vote.
Scott Pelley: Critics have often said, and this stings the president, that he should do more to reach out to Republicans. Invite them over to the White House, have 'em over for dinner, play golf with 'em; that sort of thing. But many people don't realize that Republicans turn down those invitations because they tell the White House they can't be seen with the president. How is anything going to happen in the city of Washington if the two parties can't be seen together?
John Boehner: Listen, the president and I talk and I know Mitch talks to the president. And we had a meeting at the White House last week. It was all very cordial. It was all very straightforward. I don't think, I don't think that's the issue. You know, the president could have, with the State of the Union, just put out an olive branch, could've taken just a little bit different tone that would've indicated to us that there's some interest in working with us. I can tell ya, we're interested in working with him.
Scott Pelley: Mr. Speaker, can you bring the Tea Party in line? There are Tea Party groups that hold fundraisers under the heading of, "Let's fire the Speaker." They don't think you're very conservative.
John Boehner: Well my voting record is as conservative as anybody here. The issue with the Tea Party isn't one of strategy. It's not one of different vision. It's-- it's a disagreement over tactics, from time to time. Frankly, a lot is being driven by national groups here in Washington who have raised money and just beating the dickens out of me.
Scott Pelley: Conservative groups, raising money, beating the dickens out of you.
John Boehner: Beating the dickens out of me...Well you know, because it works. They raise money, put it in their pocket, and pay themselves big salaries.
Scott Pelley: How many Republican parties are there?
John Boehner: Well, there's one. And we continue to work to bring those members along, and they bring 'em along. And, uh...but it's always a work in progress.
Scott Pelley: The president often says that he can't be the leader of just one party; that he has to be the president for all of the United States. And I wonder whether either of you lay claim to that same responsibility of uniting the country, rather than dividing it?
John Boehner: I don't wanna divide the country. We try to do everything we can up here to help unite the country. But having this debate is the American way.
Mitch McConnell: We're not divided on our love for, and support for the country. We have very different views, as Adams and Jefferson did, about what America ought to be like. And we resolve that through the democratic process. And so I would not view with alarm the fact that there are robust debates going on in Congress over the future of this country.
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