John A. Boehner has always had a gruff side. During his four-plus years as House speaker, the Ohio Republican let it show occasionally, like when he told former Democratic leader Harry M. Reid “go f- yourself” outside the Oval Office.
Now, two years to the day after he left Congress, Boehner is truly free to speak his mind. And a sprawling new profile in Politico Magazine finds the 67-year-old retiree doing just that – with his harshest words reserved for his old antagonists on the political right.
Speaking with Politico’s Tim Alberta, a chainsmoking, merlot-drinking, golf-playing Boehner gave a typically foul-mouthed assessment of some of his Republican colleagues, dumped on right-wing media stars, and opened up about his concerns over the Trump administration and the GOP’s future. The 12,000-word profile is worth reading in full, but here are some highlights.
Boehner had choice words for former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the former Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee who retired earlier this year and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who was favored among conservatives to replace him. When Boehner was asked about the two, he made his feelings clear.
“F- Jordan. F- Chaffetz,” he told Politico. “They’re both a—.”
Anyone who followed the internecine fighting between Boehner and the far-right House Freedom Caucus during Boehner’s run as speaker will understand the resentment. Jordan, the Freedom Caucus’s founding chairman, was Boehner’s main antagonist, undercutting his efforts to broker deals with the White House to address the national debt and other issues. Each effectively accused the other of betrayal.
“Jordan was a terrorist as a legislator going back to his days in the Ohio House and Senate,” Boehner told Politico. “A terrorist. A legislative terrorist.”
Presented with Boehner’s opinion of him, Jordan responded that he was merely doing what voters asked of him. “I feel sorry for the guy if he’s that bitter,” he told Politico.
As for Chaffetz, Boehner said the beef wasn’t personal. Chaffetz was just a “total phony,” he said. “With Chaffetz, it’s always about Chaffetz.”
Not everybody made Boehner’s bad list, however. He has even wound up becoming friends with some members of Congress who have crossed swords with him, according to Politico.
In the profile, Boehner recalled an incident years ago when Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, apparently infuriated by Boehner’s incessant “heckling” against earmarks, pinned Boehner against a wall in the House and held a 10-inch knife to his throat. Boehner responded with a two-word obscenity. Young told Politico that the account was “mostly true,” and said Boehner later served as best man at his wedding.
On the whole, Boehner said, Congress was a mixed bag.
“We’ve got some of the smartest people in America who serve in the Congress, and we’ve got some of the dumbest,” he said.
He added: “We have some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, and some that are Nazis. Congress is nothing more than a slice of America.”
When Boehner looks at America, he sees a nation with deep, troubling divisions. The culprit, he said, was an increasingly polarized media. He pointed to talk radio and Fox News on one side, and MSNBC and social media on the other.
In particular, he took aim at radio host Mark Levin, saying his popularity among right-wing audiences turned fellow conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Sean Hannity against him while he was speaker.
Levin, he said, “went really crazy right and got a big audience, and he dragged Hannity to the dark side. He dragged Rush to the dark side. And these guys – I used to talk to them all the time. And suddenly they’re beating the living s- out of me.”
In early 2015, Boehner reportedly called Hannity and vented his frustrations: “I called him and said, ‘Listen, you’re nuts.’ We had this really blunt conversation. Things were better for a few months, and then it got back to being the same-old, same-old. Because I wasn’t going to be a right-wing idiot.”
Boehner said he counted Roger Ailes, the late chairman of Fox News, as a personal friend, but grew concerned during a 2012 meeting when Ailes started peddling conspiracy theories. “He had black helicopters flying all around his head that morning,” Boehner said. “It was every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard, and I’m throwing cold water on all this bulls-.”
Boehner was more cautious when discussing President Donald Trump, whom he considers a friend, but made clear he doesn’t think much of the current administration.
“Dysfunction is a relative term,” he said of the White House in the Politico profile. “Right now it looks like I was a genius.”
At a conference earlier this year, Boehner called Trump’s presidency a “complete disaster,” a remark that reportedly resulted in irate voice mails from Reince Priebus, then White House chief of staff.
For Boehner, Trump seems to represent bigger problems in the Republican Party’s ability to govern, according to Politico. The GOP has no real leadership, he said.
“Donald Trump’s not a Republican,” Boehner said. “He’s not a Democrat. He’s a populist. He doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body.”
Asked how he thinks historians will remember his term as speaker, he replied: “They’ll be talking about the end of the two-party system.”