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Former Speaker John Boehner makes his first visit to A Late Show to talk about the challenges of being Speaker of the House, and to share how he really feels about Texas Senator Ted Cruz. You can pick up his new book, "On The House: A Washington Memoir," now. Keep watching for part two of Stephen's interview with the former Speaker. #Colbert #JohnBoehner #OnTheHouse
STEPHEN COLBERT: Hey, welcome back everybody. My guest tonight spent nearly 25 years in Congress working for the great state of Ohio, served four years as Speaker of the House, and just wrote a memoir about it all called, "On The House" please welcome to "A Late Show," former Speaker John Boehner. Mr. Speaker, thank you so much for being here.
JOHN BOEHNER: Stephen, it's good to be with you.
STEPHEN COLBERT: I got the book. I got-- I got my own. I got my own drink here. I got a little Weller 12 bourbon. What do-- you got anything right there?
JOHN BOEHNER: I got a little Cabernet right here.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Well listen, I've really enjoyed reading excerpts of your book. I haven't made my way all the way through it. But there are some juicy parts. You are candid in your memoir. I certainly hope you'll be as candid with me as you are in the book. Can I get that promise from you?
JOHN BOEHNER: Oh, you can get that, Stephen. Listen, I've been candid and straightforward my whole life, including my years in politics. And you're going to get the same treatment, maybe a little more.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Now, most people know you as the guy who grew up sweeping the floor of his dad's bar in Ohio. And eventually, you make it to be one of the most powerful people in the United States, the Speaker of the House. I want to ask you about that job. So few people-- I think it's altogether like 54 people have held that job over the last 200 and some odd years. What do you think that job requires?
JOHN BOEHNER: Well, it requires a lot of patience. But most of the skills I learned growing up with my dad's bar are what helped me do a good job as Speaker. The first thing you have to learn is the art of being able to disagree without being disagreeable. I'd have drunks with me sitting at the end of the bar all night. You don't want to fight with this guy, but you don't agree with him.
So you got to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable. Really help me in politics. Second lesson is you have to learn to deal with every jackass who walks in the door. Trust me, these are the two skills that helped me most when I was Speaker of the House.
STEPHEN COLBERT: I def-- I definitely want to get to some of those jackasses in just a moment. But who do you think has done a good job as speaker over the years? Who do you admire in that respect.
JOHN BOEHNER: You know, I think most everybody who has risen to that job has done a pretty good job, whether it was Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi. You know, these people did a nice job as speaker. It's a tough job. They got 435 members, all independently elected, owe you nothing. And you know you're trying to help move them to do good things on behalf of the country.
STEPHEN COLBERT: That owe you nothing thing is kind of interesting to me. How do you corral people who don't have any particularly loyalty to you as the speaker? Because they have got to answer to their constituents. You said in 2011, when you were elected to the top, job you became the quote "mayor of Crazy Town."
I remember living in downtown Crazy Town starting around 2010. What do you mean by that? Do you-- do you think you could tame that crazies?
JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, I did my best to try to corral them, to try to move them in the right direction. But you know, some of these people got elected in 2010, 2012. I mean, they were way out there. But the American people sent them there.
And I had to do my best with what I was-- with what I was dealt. I've always believed that you're going to play the cards you were dealt. And every morning I wake up and I kept looking to five aces. I still haven't gotten five aces any morning. But I've got to play the cards you're dealt, and I've played them as best I could.
STEPHEN COLBERT: I haven't played a lot of poker here. But if you get five aces, somebody is cheating. You're hard on Ted Cruz--
JOHN BOEHNER: Oh, you mean Lucifer. You mean Lucifer in the flesh.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Yes. And that's a lot of flesh for Lucifer to fill out there. In the audio book you say, do we have this? Do we have this audio? Can we play this, Jim?
JOHN BOEHNER: Take it from me, you'll never know where you'll end up that's freedom. I'll raise a glass to that any day. P.s., Ted Cruz, go [BLEEP] yourself.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Now, you-- it's been said that everybody hates Ted Cruz. And on behalf of everybody, let me agree with that. But what made you-- what made you have so much contempt for the man?
JOHN BOEHNER: Well, this guy didn't even serve in the House. He served the United States Senate. And he didn't do anything in the Senate except make noise. And come over to the House side and stir up some of my more conservative members. I don't know if I'd call them conservative. Some of my knuckleheads into doing things that made no sense whatsoever.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Such as? Like what?
JOHN BOEHNER: Such as the government shutdown in 2013 would be the prime example. I told them for months, this is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. Look, I shut down the government to get rid of Obamacare.
Now, Barack Obama is President. Harry Reid is the Majority Leader in the Senate. They were never, ever going to go there. And we were-- Ted Cruz and these knuckleheads were setting us up to shut the government down. And I just I kept telling members, this makes no sense.
But in the book, there's a favorite Boehnerism in there, and that is a leader without followers is just a man taking a walk. And next thing I know, all my troops are going to my right. And as the leader, I've got no choice but to jump out in front of them, and to be their leader.
But it was one of a number of things I've ever seen. And anyway, Ted Cruz was the mastermind behind this plan. And so he's really the only person in the book that I really take you to task, and I take him to task.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Why do you think that you were going for a walk? Why do you think that your own party jumped so far in a crazy direction? I'm not saying it's necessarily your responsibility, but it was certainly while you were a member-- a leading member of the leadership of your own party. Do you see an inflection point within the party where they started to go so crazy right?
JOHN BOEHNER: Well listen, we were just at the beginning of. We had the internet. But all the social media stuff was just starting to come onto the scene. But we had talk radio, mostly conservative.
All these cable news channels that were politics all night. And what happened around 2009, 2010, '11, is that the right wing media just really want noise. And they wanted more noise.
And these people were only too happy to give them noise, and they got a lot of airtime. And so I saw the beginnings of this. It's gotten a lot worse since. And the problem was not just on the far right. It's on the far left as well.
People will get elected, they'll know how to use social media, know how to use talk radio and the cable people, to build their brand, if you will. They're noisemakers. Gets them a lot of attention, helps them raise the money. But it doesn't do anything on behalf of the country.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Well I'll-- I'll let me-- just for a moment I'll accept your premise that both sides do this, though I'm I think that the Republicans have gotten better at having a media arm that helps inflate their worst instincts than the Democrats do. But if both sides do that, how come Nancy Pelosi can corral her crazies, and you can't corral yours?
JOHN BOEHNER: Well, she's done a better job of holding her party together. I've watched it over the 30 years that I've been around Congress. Democrats are always more willing to stick together than Republicans are.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Wait a second-- I don't think that's true.
JOHN BOEHNER: Very nature--
STEPHEN COLBERT: The Republicans have a monolithic quality, the Democrats are always a coalitions of diverse interests.
JOHN BOEHNER: Republicans tend to be more independent-minded than Democrats. I've just seen it over the years, and-- but she's done-- Pelosi has done a pretty good job of holding them together thus far.
STEPHEN COLBERT: All right, let's talk about January 6th. An incredibly heartbreaking day that none of us ever thought we would see. You wrote that Donald Trump incited that bloody insurrection, and the legislative terrorism that I had witnessed as Speaker had now encouraged actual terrorism. So logically, aren't you saying that Donald Trump is a political terrorist?
JOHN BOEHNER: No, I don't-- I don't need to ascribe words to him. But I just thought that what he was saying before the election about they're going to steal the election, they're going to steal the election. And then, after the election claiming the election was stolen without ever provided one ounce of evidence.
I kept looking-- where is the evidence? And as someone who voted for Donald Trump, I'm going to tell you, I felt abused. The loyalty and trust of his supporters, and here he is lying to them about the outcome of the election. All of that attempted to incite an awful lot of people to show up on January 6th. And then this demonstration got taken over by some real whack jobs, who turned it into some really serious violence.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Do you think do you think Biden has any hope of getting people to compromise? Since you write in the book that many of the Republicans, for many of the Republicans, it's not about principle, it's about chaos. Can you negotiate with agents of chaos?
JOHN BOEHNER: Well listen, Stephen. Governing in America, as divided as it is, is very difficult. And frankly, both parties are being held hostage by the loudest voices in their parties. And as a result, it's going to be really, really tough.
If Joe Biden were to sit down with Mitch McConnell and begin to work out something on infrastructure, the right would crucify McConnell. And frankly, the left would be crucified Biden. And so God bless them, there's a way to get there. But it's going to take a lot of courage on behalf of the leaders to do it.
STEPHEN COLBERT: We have to take a quick break, Mr. Speaker. But when we come back, I got a classic speed round on 10 people in Washington I'd like the Speaker to weigh in on. Stick around.