WASHINGTON - On his last full day at the pinnacle of Washington power, Speaker John Boehner voiced no regrets about leaving behind the unruly U.S. House of Representatives, reminisced about his career in public life and weighed in on presidential politics.
Chain smoking in his stately Capitol office, the perpetually tanned Ohio Republican, second in line to the presidency after the vice president, sat down on Wednesday with reporters. For nearly 40 minutes, he recalled recent events, boasted of his accomplishments and was coy about his next steps in private life after 25 years in Congress, five as speaker.
He said he was looking forward to buying a car and driving, which he said he missed after years of being chauffeured.
On his relationship with Democratic President Barack Obama, Boehner said he might save his impressions for a book.
He offered advice to Wisconsin's Representative Paul Ryan, the former Republican vice presidential candidate who is expected to be elected on Thursday to replace Boehner.
There were no tears from the often emotional speaker, who appeared relaxed and happy. Here are some of his remarks.
Among highlights he listed were $2.1 trillion in spending cuts and protecting nearly all of the tax cuts from Republican President George W. Bush's administration. Boehner also boasted of banning "earmarks," those special-interest projects that lawmakers used to win for their home districts, often without any oversight. Saying they "robbed the federal treasury," Boehner predicted it will be difficult to ever bring them back.
Some time ago, Boehner informally threw his support behind Jeb Bush for president in 2016. With Bush's campaign sputtering, Boehner was reticent to talk about alternatives. But he noted that Ohio Governor "John Kasich has been one of my friends for 30 years and I like him a lot."
‘Cleaning out the barn’
Boehner said difficult issues, such as extending the debt limit and passing a two-year budget deal, "had to be done. I didn't think leaving this for the next speaker was at all fair."
Not being able to enact a comprehensive deficit-reduction deal with Obama that Boehner said would have brought "trillions of dollars" in government savings and boosted the economy. Boehner revealed that as talks with Obama faltered in July 2011 on a deficit-reduction and debt limit increase deal, the country nearly was pushed into a historic debt default.
Asked how close Congress and the White House came to failing to reach a deal the weekend before an early August deadline at that time, Boehner said, "We were pretty close."
Prospects for immigration reform
"Clearly not any time soon," Boehner said. He added that the next president will "have to heal the wounds so the Congress can work together to resolve this problem."
Advice to Ryan
He has given "lots" to his likely successor. At the top of his list: "This is the loneliest place in the world. Almost as lonely as the presidency."
Asked if Ryan's chances to become president will be hurt by being House speaker, Boehner said: "I think he recognizes that," noting that not since James Polk in 1845 has a House speaker become president. On his own desire to become president, Boehner said: "Stick me in the eye with a dull stick. I've never been afflicted with that disease."