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NBC's Gregory: GOP Just Using Oil Pipeline as 'Political Issue' to Prevent Compromise

In an interview with House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday's Meet the Press, host David Gregory blamed Republicans for blocking an extension of payroll tax cuts by supporting a new oil pipeline: "You want to say, 'Look, we'll extend it for a year if the President makes a quicker decision on this pipeline.' White House officials I've talked to say you are guaranteeing that he'll say no..."

Boehner shot back: "That's nonsense. David, it's been going on for three years....The only issue here is that the President doesn't want to have to make this decision until after his election." Gregory questioned Boehner's motivation: "If you really wanted this and not just the political issue, wouldn't you make it possible for the President to have as much time as he needs to make the decision?"

Gregory touted State Department objections to the pipeline: "...the State Department has already said they can't get the review done for the extension in that amount of time." Boehner explained: "All the studies are done. It's gone through every part of the regulatory process....the President shouldn't continue just to put this off for his own election convenience."

Gregory seemed stunned by the suggestion that the State Department could possibly being influenced by political concerns: "But you think the State Department was misrepresenting the fact that they can't do a review when there's not even a proposed extension that's finalized yet by the company involved?"

Later in the interview, Gregory attempted to pit Boehner against the rest of the House GOP: "Does it disappoint you, I mean, you talk to the Vice President and the President. There's a number of people who've said publicly, "Look, the President and Boehner, they had a deal and Boehner couldn't sell it to Republicans....On the debt."

Boehner replied: "That is absolutely not true. That's not true, David....The President never said yes. He never said yes to making the kind of fundamental reforms to our entitlement programs that's necessary."

In the midst of portraying Republicans as obstructionist, Gregory tried to paint a rosy economic picture and give Obama credit for it: "Friday job numbers were out showing that the unemployment rate in Ohio down to 8.5 percent, down from 9 percent in October. It's the largest one-month drop since 1983. Unemployment nationally is down from where it was two years ago. Do you think the President's policies deserve credit here?"

Boehner pointed out the real reason for the drop in the unemployment rate: "I don't think the President's policies have anything to do with this. And the fact is, the reason these numbers are coming down is that more people are leaving the workforce, leaving the search for a job; and, as a result, you've got less people in the labor pool."

Gregory remained undeterred as he strained to find good news for the President: "You don't see a positive trend here, not even in your own state?....if you see unemployment continue in a trend downward, that jobless rate, if it continues to go down, you don't think it'll be more difficult for Republicans to make the case on the economy against this president?"

Here is a transcript of the December 18 exchange:

10:31AM ET

DAVID GREGORY: Back home, another congressional showdown. The Senate has passed a short-term extension of the payroll tax cut, but the measure is now facing strong opposition from some rank and file Republicans in the House, leaving final passage in doubt. That is where we begin this morning with our exclusive guest, the speaker of the House, John Boehner. Mr. Speaker, welcome back.

JOHN BOEHNER: David, good to be here.

GREGORY: So what's going to happen?

BOEHNER: Well, it's pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill. It's only for two months. You know, the President said we shouldn't go on vacation until we get our work done; and, frankly, House Republicans agree. We passed a one-year extension of the payroll tax credit, unemployment insurance with reforms, making sure that those doctors who treat Medicare patients are not going to see their reimbursements cut. We had a reasonable, responsible bill that we sent over to the Senate. And, you know, if you talk to employers, they talk about the uncertainty. How can you do tax policy for two months? So I've – we really do believe it's time for the Senate to, to, to work with the House to complete our business for the year. We've got two weeks to get this done. Let's do it the right way.

GREGORY: So you're suggesting start over, make this a one-year extension. Should the Senate start from scratch?

BOEHNER: No. What I'm suggesting is this, the House has passed its bill, now the Senate has passed its bill.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

BOEHNER: And you know, under the Constitution, when we have these disagreements, there's a – could be a formal conference between the House and Senate to resolve our differences. But our members really do believe we ought to do our work. The President said we shouldn't be going on vacation without getting our work done. Let's get our work done, let's do this for a year. You know, earlier this week both the House and Senate, in a bipartisan, bicameral way, funded our government through September 30th. We did it in a regular process, regular order. And what would be a regular order here is a, is a formal conference between the House and Senate.

GREGORY: But it's important to reiterate, as the speaker of the House, you are opposed to this Senate bill, to this compromise.

BOEHNER: I believe that two months is, two months is just kicking the can down the road. The American people are tired of that. I think – frankly, I'm tired of it. On the House side, we've seen this kind of action before coming out of the Senate. It's time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences, and extend this for one year.

GREGORY: Well, but-

BOEHNER: And remove the uncertainty.

GREGORY: Resolving differences is about the hardest thing to do, it seems, in Washington, and it's been that way all year long. What do you give? Where do you compromise in order to get the votes to extend this for a year?

BOEHNER: Oh, I think, if you look at the House-passed bill, we did everything the President asked for. We added a couple of policies that we believe would help create jobs in America, things like the Keystone Pipeline, pulling back some regulations on, on boilers. But we paid for this, offset it, with reasonable reductions in spending. Ninety percent of those reductions, frankly, the President agrees with. And so, we can, we can find common ground. It's just the usual, "Let's just punt. Kick the can down the road, we'll come back and do it later."

GREGORY: So you won't accept kicking this off to February. You want to get it done now.

BOEHNER: I think we should do it all right now.

GREGORY: I want to ask you about this pipeline. I want to remind our viewers what we're talking about here. This is a proposed extension of an oil pipeline that starts up in Canada, goes down to the Gulf of Mexico. You want to say, "Look, we'll extend it for a year if the President makes a quicker decision on this pipeline." White House officials I've talked to say you are guaranteeing that he'll say no to this because the State Department has already said they can't get the review done for the extension in that amount of time.

BOEHNER: That's nonsense. David, it's been going on for three years. All the studies are done. It's gone through every part of the regulatory process. The only issue here is that the President doesn't want to have to make this decision until after his election. 20,000 direct jobs, 100,000 indirect jobs, to build a pipeline from Canada down to the Gulf that would help our energy security, help produce more energy here in North America. This is the right thing to do, the American people support it, and the President shouldn't continue just to put this off for his own election convenience.

GREGORY: But you think the State Department was misrepresenting the fact that they can't do a review when there's not even a proposed extension that's finalized yet by the company involved?

BOEHNER: This was about to be approved last summer. So waiting and waiting and waiting is not the answer here. It is time to proceed with the pipeline.

GREGORY: If you really wanted this and not just the political issue, wouldn't you make it possible for the President to have as much time as he needs to make the decision?

BOEHNER: No. He's already had ample time. He's just kicking this can down the road, same Washington nonsense because it may anger some people in his base.

GREGORY: Let's talk about the economy overall and unemployment around the country and in your own state of Ohio. Friday job numbers were out showing that the unemployment rate in Ohio down to 8.5 percent, down from 9 percent in October. It's the largest one-month drop since 1983. Unemployment nationally is down from where it was two years ago. Do you think the President's policies deserve credit here?

BOEHNER: I don't think the President's policies have anything to do with this. And the fact is, the reason these numbers are coming down is that more people are leaving the workforce, leaving the search for a job; and, as a result, you've got less people in the labor pool. And so you ask Americans how they feel about the economy, and they're going to look at you and say, "Where are the jobs?" The fact is-

GREGORY: You don't see a positive trend here, not even in your own state?

BOEHNER: I think that the economy's bubbling along; and while some job growth certainly is welcome, the fact of the matter is, is the President's policies continue to hold back our economy.

GREGORY: But if you see a positive trend-

BOEHNER: All the regulations – no action on the, on the debt. The stimulus didn't work. Washington could do more. Mostly, it's "get out of the way."

GREGORY: But if you see unemployment continue in a trend downward, that jobless rate, if it continues to go down, you don't think it'll be more difficult for Republicans to make the case on the economy against this president?

BOEHNER: Well, listen, I think the next election's going to be a referendum on the economy and the President's policies regarding the economy. And if, in fact, that's the case, I think the President has a tough road ahead of him.

GREGORY: We talk about dysfunction in Washington, and here are the numbers to bear this out. Job approval for Congress at an all-time low of 9 percent, 83 percent disapproval. Honesty and ethical standards of people in different fields is something that Gallup measured. Look at that, nurses fare pretty well. There's journalists at 26 percent, members of Congress at 7 percent. When you fall below journalists, I think you're in a lot of trouble. But, all serious – all kidding aside, are you not disappointed and embarrassed by those numbers?

BOEHNER: Well, David, welcome to divided government. You know, Republicans have the majority in the House, but Democrats have the majority in the Senate, and we've got a Democrat in the White House. We have honest philosophical differences about the way forward. And so it's not a great surprise to me that, that when we get into these philosophical discussions and these debates and we don't agree, people don't like watching that. But my job is to find enough common ground between the parties to do the right thing for the American people.

GREGORY: You say common ground, that's not what the President says. He told 60 Minutes something else, a fundamental choice, he said, was made by Republicans. This is what he told Steve Kroft.

BARACK OBAMA: Can't get Republicans to move partly because they've made a political, strategic decision that says, "Anything Obama's for, we're against because that's our best chance of winning an election." But keep in mind, I'm talking about Republican members of Congress. I'm not talking about Republicans around the country.

GREGORY: What do you say to that?

BOEHNER: I absolutely disagree with that. We have honest differences with the President, and he knows it. And, and the fact is that I've worked all year to try to take those differences and set them aside and to find enough common ground to help our economy and to try to help Americans get back to work. This is not about the next election. I told the President that earlier this year. The election will take care of itself. Our job, his job and my job, is to find common ground to do the right thing for the country every day.

GREGORY: But have you given up on this president? Do you effectively say, "Look, I can't get anything done with him. Let's just wait and see if there's a Republican elected?"

BOEHNER: I'm not that smart. Listen, I, I never give up, and I'll never give up on this president or give up on this process to try to help do what the American people sent us here to do: try to resolve our differences, find common ground, and move.

GREGORY: Do you trust him as a partner?

BOEHNER: We've had very good discussions. I do trust him. It's not that – we have a tough time coming to an agreement, but the President and I have a very cordial relationship. I hope it'll continue.

GREGORY: Does it disappoint you, I mean, you talk to the Vice President and the President. There's a number of people who've said publicly, "Look, the President and Boehner, they had a deal...

BOEHNER: No. That-

GREGORY: ...and Boehner couldn't sell it..

BOEHNER: No, no-

GREGORY: ...to Republicans."

BOEHNER: That is absolutely not true. That's not true, David.

GREGORY: On the debt.

BOEHNER: The President never said yes. He never said yes to making the kind of fundamental reforms to our entitlement programs that's necessary. I told the President, when he asked for revenue, I said, "I'll put revenue on the table, but only if we get fundamental reform of the entitlement programs." He never said yes, and then came along and decided he even wanted more revenue than what I was willing to do. That's why it never came to agreement.

GREGORY: But you've been here a long time, Speaker. You're known as practical legislator, which means you're willing to compromise. Have you ever seen anything like what we've seen this year? Can't you understand Americans who have said, "We have a huge leadership vacuum on both sides in Washington"?

BOEHNER: Well, nobody likes to watch people disagree. And we all know, when it comes to legislating, there are two things that people should never watch, sausage being made and laws being made. It's just not a pretty picture because you've got people with strongly-held views. And I don't – while I believe strongly in what I believe in, other people have a right to believe in what they believe in. Again, we got to put those differences aside and where's the common ground? Where is it that we can agree? And, frankly, when it comes to extending the payroll tax credit, when it comes to extending unemployment benefits with reforms, when it comes to taking care of the doctors who treat our Medicare patients, we should not hold them hostage to some two-month agreement. We should do this for the full year like the President asked for.

GREGORY: What about next year? Do you think you get a debt reduction agreement or does that have to be put off until after the election?

BOEHNER: I believe it's critically important. Our debt and our deficit are serving as a wet blanket hanging over our economy and, frankly, hanging over the future for our kids and grandkids. We as, as leaders in our country, have a responsibility to sit down and find a way to solve our debt crisis.

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- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.