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Speaker John Boehner Downplays Freshman Effect

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Speaker John Boehner today dismissed charges that his freshman class of conservatives has been a thorn in his side but acknowledged that more seasoned conservatives have caused him problems throughout the year.

Appearing at the annual Washington Ideas Forum, Boehner told National Journal's Major Garrett that his challenges in corralling his conference and pursuing the GOP's agenda has had less to do with newer lawmakers than with old-line conservatives.

"I've told my colleagues that when I don't have 218 frogs in the wheelbarrow at one time, don't have the strongest hand. ... These would be more senior Members. I think it's a story that has been misunderstood for most of the year," he said.

"Some of our Members just want more. I want more. ... They want more change, and they want it faster. And I don't disagree with them" Boehner said. But despite that desire, Boehner said, in the end, "I want to get the ball down the field for the American people."

Boehner said he understands the public's unhappiness with Congress, quipping, "The Congress of the United States has been America's favorite whipping boy for 200 years, I understand that."

But Boehner also acknowledged that unhappiness has spiked in the last several years, saying that the "concern that I have seen over the last year ... frankly, is starting to turn into fear."

On the question of whether Congress should tackle the issue of China's manipulation of its currency, Boehner was adamant in his opposition.

"It's dangerous. You could start a trade war," Boehner warned, adding that President Barack Obama should not be silent on the issue. "Why isn't the president speaking up? Too busy out campaigning?"

Boehner repeatedly returned to his argument that Obama has shown "no leadership" but is instead turned his focus to re-election.

Boehner did have kind words for Obama on national security issues.

"I think if you've watched over the course of the last three years, I've been very supportive of the president's decisions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Boehner said, adding that, particularly in his focus on Afghanistan, "there's clearly more been done under President Obama than under President Bush."

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