By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 6, 2006
Newly elected House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he opposed efforts to ban privately funded travel for members of Congress and provisions in spending bills that fund lawmakers' pet projects.
The views of Boehner, elected by his GOP colleagues on Thursday to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), make it less likely that the more far-reaching proposals to restructure lobbying will become law. In interviews on a pair of television talk shows, Boehner amplified his earlier concerns about such broad responses to the Jack Abramoff scandal, including proposals offered by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
"In the past, when these scandals have erupted, what's happened is Congress has overreacted, and two days later nobody knew what happened," he said on "Fox News Sunday." He said he would favor more disclosure of dealings with lobbyists but would not seek complete bans on travel or "earmark" provisions. "Bringing more transparency to this relationship, I think, is the best way to control it. But taking actions to ban this and ban that, when there's no appearance of a problem, there's no foundation of a problem, I think, in fact, does not serve the institution well."
In his Sunday morning debut as majority leader on the talk-show circuit, Boehner also voiced some concern that troubles in Iraq could hurt Republicans at the polls in November, and he said he would not necessarily surrender his new post if DeLay were cleared of charges against him in a Texas money-laundering case.
Asked whether he would step aside for an acquitted DeLay, Boehner would only say, on NBC's "Meet the Press," that "we would talk about it."
On Iraq, Boehner said, "I think we will" be punished in November's midterm elections if the situation in Iraq does not improve by Election Day. But he also said that if "the amount of violence continues to go down, I think we'll be able to see some reductions in troops next year."
In other developments from the Sunday shows, Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence, did not challenge a report in The Washington Post that intelligence officers under the Bush administration's eavesdropping program had listened to thousands of Americans' overseas calls but had found fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year who were suspicious enough to justify intercepting their domestic calls.
"I'm not sure of the data that's contained in there, and I'm certainly not going to get into the fine print of the details of the program," Hayden said on "Fox News Sunday." "But you know, there are lots of ways of measuring success. In the article, The Washington Post points out -- I think they used number of FISA applications. I'm not quite sure, number one, how they got that data and why they would be the sole metric for success."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), whose committee holds a hearing on the administration's eavesdropping program today, said on "Meet the Press" that the wiretapping is illegal. "There is a specific statute on the books, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which says flatly that you can't undertake that kind of surveillance without a court order," which the administration has not sought from the special FISA court. The surveillance "is in flat violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," Specter said.
Also yesterday, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman escalated the party's criticism of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a prospective presidential candidate in 2008. "I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates," Mehlman said on ABC's "This Week." "And whether it's the comments about the plantation or the worst administration in history, Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger."
Democrats pounced on Boehner's remarks as evidence that Republicans were not serious about anti-corruption efforts. "Increasing lobbyist disclosure to an ethics committee in the House that hasn't functioned for years is hardly the way to restore integrity to Washington and end the culture of corruption," Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.) said in a statement responding to Boehner. "It shows that some in Congress simply aren't serious about reducing the influence of lobbyists and ending the culture of corruption that has plagued Washington."
Boehner had said that "we need to reduce the number" of spending earmarks, but "I don't know that it's appropriate to eliminate all of them." As for banning privately funded travel, an idea floated by Hastert, Boehner said on "Meet the Press," "I've got my doubts about that." He said it would be sufficient for the House ethics committee to pre-approve such trips, and he defended his own privately funded travel. "I've got a very open relationship of lobbyists in town, with my colleagues, with the press and with my constituents," he said. "And as a result, people invite me to go give speeches, and I go give them."
Boehner said he would not return political contributions given to his political action committee by Abramoff clients because "the money that I raised from those tribes had nothing to do with him."