Boehner defends questioning Obama’s 'courage'

“What I suggested was that during the debt talks the president didn’t have the courage to take on members of his own party,” said Boehner to NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview taped before Obama’s Tuesday State of the Union address. “The president knows that we have a serious spending problem, we’ve got a debt problem — a structural debt problem — that needs to be resolved. But there were issues we agreed upon in the summer of 2011 that once we got to December of 2011 weren’t on the table anymore.”

The Speaker rejected suggestions that he had failed to stand up to members of his own party as well.

“I’ve had my troubles with my own party, there’s no question about it, but it’s never been about the courage to step up and do the right thing for the country,” said Boehner.

Boehner on Tuesday had questioned whether Obama had the “guts” and the “courage” to challenge members of his own party and reach a deal with Republicans to cut the deficit. 

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama laid out a broad progressive agenda, vowing action on gun control, immigration, taxes and climate change. But the president will face an uphill climb rallying GOP support for his proposals. 

Boehner in a statement following the speech said that Obama had “chosen a go-it-alone approach to pursue his liberal agenda.”

In his interview, the Speaker declined to say if he would bring an immigration reform bill to a vote in the House without the support of a majority of the GOP Caucus.

A Senate group has unveiled a framework for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, and a bipartisan House group is expected to present legislation on their proposal shortly. But the Senate blueprint’s call for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country is likely to face strong opposition from House Republicans.

Boehner said he had introduced legislation despite opposition from elements of the GOP Caucus before, but would wait until he could examine the specifics of a House immigration bill.

“I’ve done it before, I’ve done it twice,” he said. “We’ll have to see what the bill is. We’ve got to work through this in a bipartisan way. We can’t get the cart before the horse here.”

“Let’s not presume the outcome, let’s allow this conversation to occur,” he added. “Let’s get members to continue working together, they can expand their group. Hopefully we’ll have a bipartisan solution.”

Boehner also expressed skepticism at the president’s calls for gun control, questioning whether more restrictions would stem the nation’s epidemic of firearm violence.

The president closed his State of the Union address by honoring the many victims of gun violence invited to the speech by him and members of Congress. Obama is pressing for bans on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity clips and for mandatory background checks for firearm purchasers, measures opposed by many Republican lawmakers and the nation’s gun lobby.

“All of our hearts go out to the victims of these tragedies around our country,” said Boehner. “I would hope that we would take a broader look at this, the violence in our country, where does it come from? You look at each of these mass shootings, each of the shooters all had mental health issues. How can we do a better job of controlling their access to weapons?”