Boehner: 'Put Up or Shut Up' on Drilling

Over the past two weeks, House Minority Leader John Boehner has traveled the country in support of Republican candidates, raising money and talking about the GOP’s uprising on the House floor. Boehner was back on Capitol Hill today to kick off day 14 of what’s been called the Don’t Go Movement. I had an opportunity to sit down for a one-on-one interview.

Before we talked, Boehner and a handful of his GOP colleagues met with John McCain’s top policy adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, to discuss energy strategy. McCain’s decision to dispatch a high-profile adviser was a fresh dose of support for the uprising, which began Aug. 1 when Democrats adjourned for a five-week paid vacation.

Opening today’s session shortly after 11 a.m., Boehner told visitors sitting on the House floor that Republicans were sticking around to keep pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democrat colleagues. “Put up or shut up” is how Boehner framed it. To back it up, House GOP leaders sent a letter to 22 rank-and-file Democrats accusing them of hypocrisy for talking favorably about drilling but voting in lockstep with Pelosi.

Boehner told me the reaction he’s received on the road during his trip to places such as Upstate New York, Western Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Connecticut has been overwhelmingly positive. “People are excited. We get loud applause. They want it to continue until we get our vote,” he said.

When I pressed him on the Sept. 30 expiration of the offshore drilling ban and how he would react to Democrat attempts to extend the moratorium, Boehner said he was confident Republicans would be united. He added: “I think there are a number of Democrat members who would agree with us. Our goal is to prevent it from happening, pure and simple.”

A letter circulated by Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) has 150 signatures of members who promise to oppose any attempt to extend the ban. There are still 49 Republicans who have yet to sign the letter.Boehner said he was skeptical of Pelosi’s apparent shift on offshore drilling and the broader energy plan she is reportedly crafting behind closed doors.

“We have a bill, the American Energy Act, which is our all-of-the-above plan. Let’s see their plan,” he said. “I hear chatter about what it could be, but let’s see it. What is it? The fact is they don’t have a plan. From the little bit I’ve heard them discuss it, it produces almost no new net energy and contains billions of dollars worth of tax increases.”

Boehner also made clear the ball was in Pelosi’s court, signaling his willingness to let her remain on the defensive. The two have not talked — Pelosi has spent the past few weeks on a cross-country book tour — and Boehner said he wasn’t sure if she would call.

“I would hope so,” he said, “but I’m not going to hold my breath until I hear from her.”

As for his meeting with Holtz-Eakin, Boehner was reluctant to go into much detail. He simply said House Republicans and McCain were working toward the same goal.

“McCain yesterday was on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. He understands that this is the issue that Americans are talking about. He’s on the right side of the issue,” Boehner said. “Obama has been opposed to drilling, opposed to nuclear, opposed to using coal in a clean way. McCain is where the American people are.”