Transcript: House Majority Leader Boehner on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript from the Sept. 17, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now, the House majority leader, Republican John Boehner.

Congressman, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Good to be with you, Chris.

WALLACE: You created quite a stir this week when you said the following — and let's put it on the screen.

"I listen to my Democratic friends, and I wonder if they're more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people."

Now, President Bush distanced himself from your remarks, saying that leaders don't question the patriotism of people who disagree with them. And a Democratic congressman was much rougher. Let's watch.


U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DAVID OBEY, D-WIS.: I come from the state of Joe McCarthy. I know a first-rate McCarthy when I see one. And I also know a third-rate McCarthy when I see one, and we saw one yesterday.


WALLACE: Congressman, do you take back your remarks?

BOEHNER: Chris, the point I was trying to make is that there's a very big difference between the two parties in terms of how best to protect the American people from terrorists.

I could have articulated this much better, but the fact is, is that, if you look at the USA Patriot Act, we're trying to give the president tools to protect Americans; they fought against us.

You look at the Hamdan decision that came down from the Supreme Court. Democrats were jubilant that the court was taking away the president's ability to do these military tribunals.

And then when the leak came out on the terrorist surveillance program over at NSA, the Democrats were jubilant that this had been exposed and began to press the administration.

So the point I'm making is that I think these programs have helped protect the American people, helped uncover terrorist plots before they happened, and they're necessary programs. And we're willing to give the president the tools that he needs to take on the terrorists. And many times, they stand in the way and try to fight us giving the president these tools. And that's the point I was trying to make.

WALLACE: All right, fair enough. But now you've got Republicans, like John McCain and Lindsay Graham and Colin Powell, raising questions about the president's treatment of terror detainees.

Here's what Senator Lindsay Graham said this week about Mr. Bush's proposal about military tribunals.


GRAHAM: Anybody who says that you can have a trial to convict someone on evidence given to the jury and not shared with the accused I think is wrong.


WALLACE: In the same way you said it about Democrats, are McCain and Graham and Powell also more interested in protecting terrorists than the American people?

BOEHNER: No, there's a big difference here. I think when you see Lindsey Graham and John McCain, they want to help the president get the tools to take on the terrorists. We have differences over what those tools look like. But they weren't out there celebrating when the Supreme Court handed down the Hamdan decision. They believe that there ought to be military tribunals; many Democrats don't.

And that's the point I'm trying to make. We'll work out the differences with Senator McCain and Mr. Graham to give the president the tools he needs to effectively protect the American people.

WALLACE: In a sense, though, have McCain and Graham and Warner and Arlen Specter, by their opposition to elements of the president's plans, have they given Democrats political cover on the national security issue for this November?

BOEHNER: Chris, this is not about political cover. This is about a serious disagreement over the details of the tools that we want to give to the president.

WALLACE: But national security is an issue in this...

BOEHNER: It certainly is, but protecting the American people is above and beyond politics on either side of the aisle. And so, I would never suggest that this gets in the way of an election.

We need to work out a way to give the president the tools that he needs to protect the American people before a terrorist incident happens here again.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the legislative agenda you've got for the next few weeks before Congress goes home to campaign. The House this week passed a measure to build a 700 mile-long fence along the Mexico border. But Senate leaders, including Republicans, continue to hold out for a comprehensive legislative package.

Question: Will some form of immigration reform end up on the president's desk before you go home at the end of this month?

BOEHNER: House Republicans believe that if we're going to have real immigration reform, the first step has to be to secure the borders. Anything after that is only going to invite another wave of illegal immigration.

Chairman Sensenbrenner, Chairman Specter and others have continued to work on a broader illegal immigration reform plan, and we're hopeful that they can come to some agreement. But in the meantime, House Republicans are going to continue to insist that we do everything possible to secure our borders.

We've made a lot of progress over the last five years. If you look at the number of incursions of our border over the last six months, those numbers are down significantly. We've got the National Guard down there. We've got a lot of new activity, more fences being built.

And what we want to do is to speed up the process of making sure that we have secure borders while we're working with the Senate to come up with a more comprehensive plan.

WALLACE: But what you're basically saying is you're going to hold to your guns on enforcement first. Meanwhile, you've got Republican senators like Arlen Specter and John McCain saying they want a comprehensive package.

If Republicans, with majorities in both houses, fail to come up with any legislation the president can sign this year on immigration reform, which I think we all agree is a big issue, isn't that a serious problem?

BOEHNER: I believe that we will have a piece of legislation that the president can sign this year. I'm not going to suggest to you whether it be before or after the election, because I don't know. But the fact is, is that House Republicans are going to stick to our guns to insist that we secure the border before we do anything else.

WALLACE: So you're saying that this bill that the president's going to get on his desk is going to be enforcement first?

BOEHNER: I didn't say that. I'm saying there are a lot of things we can do, we have been doing and will do. We've got the Homeland Security appropriations conference report coming up. We believe there are things that we can do in that bill that will be on the president's desk before the election that will help us better secure our border.

WALLACE: All right. The House voted this week for disclosure of earmarks, to make public which congressman is behind a narrow interest tax or spending proposal.

But broader ethics reform, which a lot of House Republicans were talking about at the beginning of the year when the Abramoff scandal was a bigger deal than it is now, things like bans on privately funded travel or limits on contacts with lobbyists, that's gone nowhere.

Why is it that the Republican Congress has failed to pass true ethics reform?

BOEHNER: Well, both the House and Senate have passed bills that would deal with ethics reform and lobbying reform. We've been in conversations to try to resolve the differences between the two bodies.

There are big differences between the House and Senate. We've been unable to come to an agreement. That's why I insisted about six weeks ago that the House would take up earmark reform and do it now.

If members are going to ask the American taxpayers to fund some project in their district, they ought to be willing to have it disclosed and have their name attached to it.

And I believe that if you look at the problems that we've seen on both sides of the aisle with members, it goes to the issue of the illicit use of being able to earmark money in spending bills and authorization bills for special projects.

WALLACE: On this same subject, this week Congressman Bob Ney, one of your Republican colleagues in the House, agreed to plead guilty to influence-peddling. Now, he has stepped down as chairman; he's still a member of Congress.

This is a man who is basically admitting that he sold his vote. Should he spend another day in the House?

BOEHNER: Bob Ney clearly admitted to making some big mistakes. And he's going to pay dearly for the mistakes that he's admitted to.

But he's also checked himself in for alcohol abuse. And right now my prayers are with him and his family. It's a sad day for the Congress and a sad day for Bob Ney.

WALLACE: Should he resign from the House?

BOEHNER: That's a decision that he and his family are going to have to make.

WALLACE: I want to come at you from a different side, if I can, here.

BOEHNER: Well, you've come at me from every side so far, so...

WALLACE: That's right, exactly.

I want to show you an article that was published this week from a senior editor at the conservative National Review. Take a look.

He wrote, "The congressional wing of the Republican Party lost its reformist zeal years ago and has been trying to win elections based on pork and incumbency. An election victory would reward that strategy, leaving the congressmen even less interested in restraining spending, reforming government programs, and revamping the tax code."

I'm sure you've heard this from some conservatives, Congressman. They say a defeat in November would be good for the House Republicans, because you've lost your way and this would give you time to understand and remember what you stand for.

BOEHNER: Nonsense. I can go through program after program that we've reformed. And you're talking with someone here who was involved in exposing the House bank scandal, the House restaurant scandal, the post office scandal. I've been involved in reforming this institution since the day I got here 16 years ago.

This week, this effort on earmark reform is a substantial step forward in providing sunshine and transparency on a very deep, dark practice that's gone on here for many, many years.

But I don't think losing the majority is the way for our colleagues to learn a lesson. I think that if you've watched what I've done over the last seven months, we've pushed our members hard to come back to the principles that put us in the majority.

And it's those principles of reforming government, controlling spending and trying to keep the economy strong that have kept our party the party in power in Congress, and it will be the principles that bring us back in November.

WALLACE: Well, that's — we have 20 seconds left. The Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to take over the House, regain control of the House. What's going to happen on Election Day?

BOEHNER: Republicans are going to maintain control of both the House and the Senate by comfortable margins.

WALLACE: Comfortable. Win the House by how many?

BOEHNER: Plenty.

WALLACE: Plenty. Double digits?

BOEHNER: We've got a couple of tough seats, but let me tell you what, I've been in all these tough seats. Our members are ready for the battle, they're engaged in the battle, and their numbers look very good.

WALLACE: Congressman Boehner, thank you. Thanks for coming back.

BOEHNER: Thank you.