House Speaker John A. Boehner called last fall’s government shutdown a “very predictable disaster” that he warned his fellow Republicans to avoid, but ultimately went along with it at the behest of colleagues intent on a standoff with President Barack Obama over his healthcare law.
Making his “Tonight Show” debut Thursday, the Ohio Republican told host Jay Leno that the episode reflected the challenges he faces leading an often rambunctious House majority.
“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,” he said. “So I said, ‘You want to fight this fight? I’ll go fight the fight with you.’ But it was a very predictable disaster.”
The nation’s highest-ranking Republican, in typically blunt fashion, explained that being speaker means playing various roles.
“Some members, I have to be the big brother figure,” he said. “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. It’s hard to do.”
Asked if tension within his party was the worst he’d ever seen, Boehner at first balked, but then agreed with the sentiment. The party is united in its goals but not its preferred tactics, he said, before again criticizing outside groups that he said “purport to represent the tea party.”
“There’s nothing I could do that was ever conservative enough for them,” he said, apparently referring to groups that had prodded his members to shut down the government over Obamacare.
Boehner made his “Tonight Show” appearance after what Leno said were multiple requests in the last few years. It came during a visit by the speaker to California that included the announcement of a drought-relief bill in Bakersfield on Wednesday.
Leno asked Boehner about a range of other topics, including the U.S. surveillance tactics that have been made public by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Boehner would not say if he agreed with another senior Republican’s assessment this week that Snowden was spying on behalf of Russia, simply calling Snowden a “traitor.” As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Boehner called him a “thug.”
“He’s treated his neighbors in a disrespectful way,” he said. “And, frankly, I think the president ought to stand up to him and better protect America’s interests and our allies, especially in Eastern Europe.”
Boehner said he didn’t plan to endorse any Republican in the 2016 presidential race, but volunteered that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was a friend and would “make a great president.”
When Leno asked whether Boehner wanted the job, he categorically ruled it out.
“Listen, I like to play golf. 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,” he said.
Boehner used his rare appearance on a comedy show to poke fun at rumors about his dark — some might say verging on orange — complexion. It’s a mix of genes and a lot of time outdoors — all natural, he said.
“There are no tanning beds,” he said. “There’s no spray thing. Never, not once.”