Boehner lashes at conservative groups: 'They've lost all credibility'

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) lit into conservative activist groups for a second straight day, saying they have “lost all credibility” by attacking a bipartisan budget deal before it came out.

In a remarkable year-end press conference, Boehner repeatedly, and at times angrily, denounced and mocked the organizations that have dogged him throughout his Speakership, accusing them of “misleading their followers” while defending his own conservative credentials.

“I think they’re pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be, and frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility,” Boehner said.

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The Speaker didn’t cite any organizations by name, but he was clearly referring to a collection of Tea Party and conservative groups that have opposed nearly every significant piece of fiscal legislation he has presented to his members. They include Heritage Action, the political arm of the influential think tank, as well as the Tea Party-aligned FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

Boehner grew more animated as he recalled the government shutdown in October, blaming the activists who he said “pushed us into this fight to defund ObamaCare and shut down the government.”

The day before the government reopened, he said, “one of these groups stood up and said, well, we never really thought it would work.”

“Are you kidding me?!” Boehner asked loudly.

Boehner and his leadership team have privately seethed at groups like Heritage for months, but the groups' decision to oppose the budget agreement in advance prompted the Speaker to denounce them in public. His venting follows that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who, earlier this fall, called out the groups for launching primaries against him and his members.

The Speaker strongly defended the two-year budget agreement that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) negotiated with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), saying that, while it is not everything Republicans want, it “takes giant steps in the right direction.”

“This budget bill gets us more deficit reduction than what we have under the Budget Control Act,” he said. “I came here to cut the size of government. That’s exactly what this bill does, and why conservatives wouldn’t vote for this, or [would] criticize the bill is beyond any recognition I could come up with.”

But the press conference turned to a broader defense of Boehner’s three-year tenure as Speaker.

“I’m as conservative as anybody around this place,” he said. “And all the things that we’ve done in the three years that I’ve been Speaker have not violated any conservative principle. Not once.”

Asked whether he wanted the conservative groups to “stand down,” Boehner scoffed. “I don’t care what they do,” he replied.

Conservative groups had fired back at Boehner’s initial denunciation on Wednesday, but they held back on Thursday.

Democrats, however, praised his comments.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) weighed in on the feud Thursday, saying she "was encouraged" by Boehner's remarks but isn't yet banking on the notion that they foreshadow a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

"We'll see what happens today," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called them “a breath of fresh air.”

— Mike Lillis contributed