Boehner on compromise: ‘I reject the word’

BOEHNER ON COMPROMISE: ‘I REJECT THE WORD’…. In a segment last night, “60 Minutes” featured incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in what was basically a bio piece. This wasn’t hard hitting, and it wasn’t intended to be — most Americans have no idea who John Boehner is, so the story was basically an introduction.

And while I suspect much of the attention will end up focused on Boehner crying — as is his wont — during the interview, there were a couple of a substantive exchanges.

Most notably, Lesley Stahl brought up the notion of a conservative Republican Speaker cooperating with a Democratic president. It led to this back and forth:

Boehner: We have to govern. That’s what we were elected to do.

Stahl: But governing means compromising.

Boehner: It means working together.

Stahl: It also means compromising.

Boehner: It means finding common ground.

Stahl: Okay, is that compromising?

Boehner: I made it clear I am not gonna compromise on my principles, nor am I gonna compromise…

Stahl: What are you saying?

Boehner: …the will of the American people.

Stahl: You’re saying, “I want common ground, but I’m not gonna compromise.” I don’t understand that. I really don’t.

Boehner: When you say the word “compromise,” a lot of Americans look up and go, “Uh-oh, they’re gonna sell me out.” And so finding common ground, I think, makes more sense.

When Stahl noted the tax deal, and the fact that Boehner had to make concessions when dealing with the White House, she said Boehner did, in fact, “compromise.” Boehner replied, “We found common ground.”

Stahl responded that Boehner seemed “afraid of the word.” The incoming Speaker replied, “I reject the word.”

I suppose some of this comes down to semantics. Boehner’s willing to work with Democrats and find areas of common ground, but he’s not willing to “compromise.” What’s the difference? I haven’t the foggiest idea. Perhaps Frank Luntz told Boehner the “c” word polls poorly, so it’s been dropped from the Republican lexicon.

Regardless, it’s hardly encouraging. We’re poised to have a large, conservative Republican House majority, an utterly-dysfunctional Senate with a narrow Democratic majority, and a Democratic White House. Each has principles they’ll want to defend; each believes they’ve received a mandate from the electorate; and each believes the public sides with them.

And it’s against this backdrop that the incoming Speaker of the House says of compromise, “I reject the word.”

Here’s hoping White House officials were paying attention to the comment.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.