FULL EPISODE:4/18/21 Federal lawmakers talk foreign affairs; Fmr. House Speaker John Boehner covers his new book

Published: Apr. 17, 2021 at 10:17 PM EDT
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), author of the new book, “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) for Gray Television’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, April 18, 2021.

Mr. Boehner told Van Susteren that although he supports pulling troops out of Afghanistan, President Biden’s decision to put a “hard deadline” on it was a mistake. “We still have to be ready and able to respond if it becomes a haven for Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other of these terrorist groups,” he said. “We’re going to end up being back in there because these people are going to show up there. But I think we can do it without having troops on the ground.”

Boehner went on to say that the far left is holding the President hostage, and that as a result, he has not found command ground with Republicans. “Joe Biden talked all last year about bipartisanship, working together and bringing a new tone to Washington,” said Boehner. “But here we are, almost or over two months into Joe Biden’s presidency, and he’s having a choice, cave to the far left or work with Republicans. And not yet has he reached out to Republicans.”

When asked whether he missed Washington, Boehner answered: “No. I’ve spent 25 years there, enjoyed my time, but when I left, I left and I’ve never had a moment of remorse or regret since.”

Sen. Fischer expressed consternation over pulling out of Afghanistan. “My concern is ... to make sure that the terrorists do not regain a strong foothold in that country and then bring terrorism to our shores once again.”

On tensions between the U.S. and Russia, Fischer said: “I think this is a case where Russia is testing this new administration. I certainly hope it does not escalate … But I also hope that the President will show that we are firm in our resolve.”

Rep. Dingell said that although she is worried about women in Afghanistan, she supported President Biden in withdrawing U.S. troops. “We can’t have an endless war,” she said. “It had to end, and it was a difficult decision, but I think the right decision.”

On the COVID surge in her state of Michigan, Dingell blamed the B117 British variant and “COVID fatigue,” saying: “People are sick of COVID. They don’t want to wear a mask, they don’t want to follow the rules and a lot of people are letting down their guard.”

On President Biden’s infrastructure plan, Dingell balked when asked whether she would support a two-pronged approach that would move social infrastructure into a different bill. “All of the things that we are talking about are absolutely critical to operating effectively,” said Dingell.

Interview highlights are below.

John Boehner Highlights

On Afghanistan

Greta Van Susteren Van Susteren

What do you think about the withdrawal from Afghanistan?

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Well, listen though, we’ve been there for 20 years. We’ve had our ups and our downs, but I’ve got to tell you that I think it’s time to pull out the troops. I’m not sure I want to put a hard deadline on it. I think that was a mistake. But secondly, we still have to be ready and able to respond if it becomes a Haven for Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other of these terrorist groups. We’re going to end up being back in there because these people are going to show up there. But I think we can do it without having troops on the ground. We’ve lost way too many men and women and spent over a trillion dollars there, tried to impose a Western-style democracy in a part of the world that they just can’t like quite gather, they can’t understand this.

On bipartisanship, President Biden, Democrats and Republicans

Greta Van Susteren

Is there any chance there’s going to be bipartisanship, real bipartisanship in the next four, six, eight years in Congress and the White House?

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Well, when the American people demand it, they’ll get it. Now remember, members of Congress tend to react to the loudest voices in our party. So, many Republicans are listening to the loud voices on the right of the right. Many Democrats are listening to the loudest voices on the left of the left, which makes governing almost impossible. I would argue that the leaders are being held hostage by the loudest voices in their party.

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

I look at Joe Biden, talked all last year about bipartisanship working together and bringing a new tone to Washington. I’ve known Joe Biden for 30 years. I’ve done a lot of things with him, negotiated with him. So, I tend to believe. I know Joe. He’ll reach out and work with them. But here we are almost, or over two months into Joe Biden’s presidency, and he’s having a choice, cave to the far left or work with Republicans. And not yet has he reached out to Republicans.

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

He’s trying to hold his party together. I understand it. But the longer he holds onto these crazy ideas from the far left, he’s doing this instead of finding bipartisan common ground. Trust me, Republicans are looking, especially in the Senate, are looking for some bipartisan common ground. They’d like to get some things done, but bipartisanship starts at the beginning of the process, not at the end of the process.

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

He is a bipartisan guy, but he’s being held hostage by the far left. At this point, they’ve got a hold on him. Maybe it’s Biden’s staff, I don’t know, but they’ve made it pretty clear of that they’re not ready to walk away from the left. As soon as Biden begins to work with Republicans in the Senate, hell is going to break loose from the far left. And for that matter, hell may break loose from the far-right if McConnell actually works with Biden. This was what I mean, both parties are being held hostage by- This is was what I mean, both parties were being held hostage by the loudest voices in the two parties.

On expanding the Supreme Court

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Well, of course, when you don’t have the majority of people who think like you, you want to find a way to get to the majority. So this doesn’t surprise me, but it’s not going to happen. The votes are not there, I don’t think in the House or the Senate to do this. But it’s short-circuiting democracy. That’s not a good idea.

On D.C. statehood

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

It’s not going to happen. They’ve been talking about it forever. Even if it were to happen, there’d be a Constitutional challenge. The Constitution calls for a federal city. That federal city happens to be Washington, DC. And so I frankly think it’s unconstitutional to make Washington a state.

On Nancy Pelosi and the job of Speaker

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

You’re trying to keep all the frogs in a wheelbarrow and it’s very hard to do to get to 218 votes, which is a majority of the 435 members. And so every day it’s a balancing act. Nancy Pelosi has been doing it for a while. I had my turn at it. Listen, American democracy was meant to be difficult. The founders must be laughing up there in Heaven watching this because when they were putting the Constitution together, they were this big body in the middle of our government called the Congress. They knew the country would grow. They knew the Congress would grow. And they knew that if the Congress got even bigger, it would never be able to agree on anything. Well, guess what? They’re right. I mean, it really is. Have you ever seen a committee of 435 people ever agree on anything? It’s pretty hard to do.

Greta Van Susteren

Is her job, Speaker Pelosi’s job now, any different from your job as Speaker of the House? Or are they essentially the same job?

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

No. Her job is becoming more like the job I had as the progressive caucus continues to grow and continues to demand more. What I went through in 2011 to 2015 is what she’s been going through the last couple of years and about to face I think some even bigger headwinds. Listen, now we’ve been blessed to have essentially a two-party political system, Democrat party, and Republican party. But because we have essentially a two-party system, within those two parties, we’ve got all kinds of factions. And there’s been a lot written about the schism in the Republican party between the Trumpers and traditional Republicans. But the same schism is in the Democrat party as well between traditional Democrats, like Joe Biden and these far left-wing progressives that are pushing the Democrat party in an entirely new direction.

Greta Van Susteren

In fact, in your book, I think you said that Speaker Pelosi with reference to the squad. The words you used is that you said, “I could tell you with absolute certainty, she knows they are a bunch of kooks.”

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Yeah. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s trying to hold her party together, hold her majority together. And her majority is based on moderate Democrats who won in Republican areas. Without them, she’s not the Speaker. And the far left of her party is pushing them so far left that she’s endangering, they are endangering these moderate Democrats. So I don’t have to talk to Nancy Pelosi to understand exactly how she feels about this left wing of her party. Can you imagine Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco liberal, looking like a moderate Democrat these days? It’s kind of shocking.

Greta Van Susteren

Do you ever talk to her?

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Not very often, no.

On Bill Clinton and Barack Obama

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Now, Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was, I still think, the best politician I’ve ever met. This guy could sell ice to Eskimos. But he was a wily guy who tended to be obviously, more left than Republicans. But when push came to shove and he needed something done for his own politics, he’d find a way to work with Republicans and get it accomplished.

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Barack Obama, we’re as different as night and day. And we are two really different people, two different parties, believe in radically different things in terms of our vision for America. But listen I was the Speaker of the House, he was the President of the United States, the American people expected us to get along, have a relationship and do our best on behalf of the country. And so I worked hard to establish a relationship with Barack Obama. I still have a good relationship with him. We are very different people, but we got... We may have stumbled and fought, but we actually got some things accomplished on behalf of our country.

On his memories of Congress and who he keeps in touch

Greta Van Susteren Van Susteren

Congratulations on your new book and I can tell you from reading it, I don’t get the sense that you miss us here in Washington.

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

No. I’ve spent 25 years there, enjoyed my time, but when I left, I left and I’ve never had a moment of remorse or regret since.

Greta Van Susteren

Who do you miss the most from the House?

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Well, the ones I don’t really miss them because the people I really like I still get to talk to.

Greta Van Susteren

Who do you miss the most in the Senate?

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

I guess I have to say Mitch and I’ll mention, while we’re very different people, Mitch and I actually had a pretty close relationship, still have a close relationship. And I learned a lot from Mitch, what to do and what not to do. But I miss my weekly meetings with Mitch McConnell. They were always to me rather entertaining, mostly entertaining because of what he didn’t say.

Greta Van Susteren

And how are you and Mitch so very different if you got along so well? You say you’re very different people.

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Listen, Greta Van Susteren, you know me I’m open, gregarious, what I know you’ll know. I’m an open book. Mitch McConnell holds his cards so close to his vest that nobody gets to see it. I mean, I got a little peek every once in a while, but he operates completely different than I would.

Greta Van Susteren

How about Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, you’ve worked with him over the years, how do you describe him?

John Boehner, Former House Speaker

Chuck and I served in the House together and frankly I always had a good relationship with Chuck. He’s a liberal from New York City, but apparently not liberal enough. And here this guy trying to be the Senate Majority Leader trying to hold his party together, but he’s up for reelection in 2022. And he’s having to look over his shoulder at AOC and The Squad who are threatening to take him out. And so here’s Chuck, he’s trying to operate but he’s got a gun at his head.

Sen. Deb Fischer Highlights

On Afghanistan

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

I understand people are so weary of this war and very frustrated with it because we haven’t seen definable progress over 20 years. I’m frustrated as well. I am concerned about just setting an arbitrary date and pulling everybody out because we went to Afghanistan to take on the terrorists. That was the mission. And if we pull out without any kind of plan in place, I think most experts agree that terrorists will grow stronger in that country. So, I hope the administration will have a plan in place so that they are able to work with allies or work with the Afghans or monitor this in some way so that we don’t see that take place.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

My heart breaks for the women of Afghanistan. When you look at 20 years ago, their living conditions were horrendous. They were despicable. But we didn’t go there to do to address that issue.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

My concern is with the original mission, with the continuing mission that we have in Afghanistan, and that is to make sure that the terrorists do not regain a strong foothold in that country and then bring terrorism to our shores once again.

On Russia

Greta Van Susteren

The U.S. imposed sanctions because of what Russia did in our elections and it has expelled 10 diplomats, and now Russia has responded in kind, expelling 10 US diplomats. Are you concerned that we’re getting very close to a more serious situation with Russia?

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

Russia is a threat. I think this is President Biden and Putin figuring each other out. President Biden has said that he knows Putin. And of course, as Vice President, as a Senator, he had interactions there. But I think this is a case where Russia is testing this new administration. I certainly hope it does not escalate. We don’t want to see that happen. But I also hope that the President will show that we are firm in our resolve.

On infrastructure

Greta Van Susteren

Senator, you went to the White House this past week about infrastructure. President Biden wanted to meet with a bipartisan group. What did you learn?

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

It was bicameral, bipartisan, every member there had a chance to express themselves to the President and his team. What I spoke to the President about was the need to really focus on traditional infrastructure, actual infrastructure.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

It’s roads, it’s bridges, it’s waterways, it’s ports, it’s airports, pipeline. I include broadband in that now, too, because of the importance of getting people connected all across this nation. The President has a different view. He has a much, much larger definition of infrastructure that I disagree with. It seems like it’s more of a policy wish list to me.

Greta Van Susteren

All right. Well, one of the big issues is paying for it. And the Republicans of course want the President to come down off his number and they want him to be bipartisan, but you have people in your own party who are not going to give on the issue of raising the corporate income tax. So is your party willing to give a little bit on that, to raise the corporate income tax to pay for this, or is that non-negotiable?

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

There’s a number of us who are trying to work on a proposal, a Republican proposal to put forth.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

I think we’ll be able to get to a pretty appropriate number without having to look at taxing people more, because I think this corporate tax raising is just the beginning. One of the things I asked President Biden was, well, what about small businesses? How are they going to be affected? Because we’ve heard all sorts of things about eliminating the death tax and doing that stepped up basis, which would really, really hurt small business owners, farmers, and ranchers, people that have struggled, put in sweat, tears, taken a lot of risk so that they could have this family business. And to treat them the same as large corporations, if that was the direction that the President’s thinking of going, that’s a huge mistake and would have such a detrimental effect all across this nation.

Rep. Debbie Dingell Highlights

On Afghanistan

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

I think that it’s time to get out of an endless war, but I worry about the women in Afghanistan. I think that we’re all going to have to, in whatever way, we can try to find a way to support many of the efforts that under both Republicans and Democrats were begun to help educate the women and give women protection and a significant role in their country.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

National security does matter. And we’ve got a lot of people out there that are attacking us in many non-traditional ways, which are the new ways of war, like cyber warfare, et cetera. But we can’t have an endless war. It had to end, and it was a difficult decision, but I think the right decision.

On Michigan COVID cases

Greta Van Susteren

Michigan is having the highest rate of COVID infections. Do you have any explanation for that or any thoughts about why that’s happening to Michigan and now?

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

One is COVID fatigue; people are sick of COVID. They don’t want to wear a mask, they don’t want to follow the rules and a lot of people are letting down their guard. And two is the variants. We have the highest number of B117 cases in the country, it’s the British variant that spreads very quickly. And you know, our hospitals are full. Beaumont Hospital has actually seen people in tents in the parking lot. This is real, it’s serious.

On water shutoffs

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

But I want to tell you something else that’s a real problem, Greta, water shutoffs. At the beginning of this pandemic a year ago, Rashida Tlaib had spoken with me and I went to the leadership meeting and said, “Nancy, we’re turning off water in people’s homes,” or “People’s water has already been turned off”-

Greta Van Susteren

Why?

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

Because they can’t afford to pay their bills.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

And I have asked the president to please consider doing a national moratorium on shutting no water shutoffs while the COVID is raging.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

People need water, water is life.

On infrastructure

Greta Van Susteren

Sen. Coons, a Democrat, has suggested in an effort to try to get a bipartisan resolution that the president’s proposal be split in two. Number one, part of the bill would be sort of the core things that we traditionally think about as infrastructure building broadband, roads, that kind of thing. And then to separate the other part into the sort of the social infrastructure into another bill. Would you be in favor of this two-prong approach?

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

I would argue all of the things that we are talking about are absolutely critical to operating effectively.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

If we’re going to go to the electric vehicles, we’ve got to build out the electric vehicle infrastructure in this country. Our roads and bridges at Michigan are terrible. Our phrase in Michigan is fix the damn roads.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

COVID has shined the light on how it’s not just rural areas but urban areas. Our school children have been so desperately impacted by the lack of broadband. The schools, I mean there are a ton of things that need it, but long-term care is broken in this country too. Look at the number of women who have been forced out of the workplace because they’ve had to deal with caregiving. We’re going to have 40 million seniors by the year 2050. Those over 85 are going to triple.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

We are one of the only industrialist nations in the world that does not have long-term care.

On Russia

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

I think we need to take Russia very seriously. I am glad that President Biden showed Mr. Putin that we are not afraid.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

Russia is a danger to our national security. They were responsible for a hack into numerous government agencies. They have killed people. We know that they have killed people. They are doing it shamelessly. Members of Congress have been hacked, and we need to be ever vigilant. And the nature of war that we have fought in the past is changing in front of our eyes as we watch it as well.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

About “Full Court Press” and Gray Television:

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