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How A Prominent Boehner Critic Sees Congress' Future Without Him

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're joined now by Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican who's been critical of the now outgoing speaker. Welcome to the program.

TIM HUELSKAMP: My pleasure to join you.

MCEVERS: Your colleague in the House Paul Ryan called Boehner's plan to resign both the speakership and his House seat an act of pure selflessness. Is that how you see it?

HUELSKAMP: I think it was - he did it in a very classy manner. But at the end of the day, John Boehner has been very vindictive. And that was hopefully in the past, and we'll move forward from that. But no other speaker I know of in the history of this country - and obviously this would be moderate speakers only - actually went after their own membership, had their super PAC run ads against them. People can agree and disagree, but as the pope said, you know, we've got to come together on these differences and have an honest, open debate.

MCEVERS: We heard John Boehner say he's still got five weeks left in his role as speaker. How concerned are you that he will push through legislation that you and others in the party have opposed?

HUELSKAMP: Well, there are a number of things that John Boehner has said were principles of his, including, most importantly and most recently, the issue of pro-life. The only thing John Boehner has left to lose as speaker are his pro-life principles. I've asked for new leadership for two-and-a-half years now. It's finally come to pass, but we've got a lot of work to do before he leaves. And again, he has a chance to do the right thing on this issue of trafficking in baby body parts and other things that are going out - on across America.

MCEVERS: So does that mean you are still concerned that he could make a deal to fund the government without defunding Planned Parenthood?

HUELSKAMP: I still have that fear. Barack Obama said he'd veto any spending bill - any spending bill - that does not fund his political ally of Planned Parenthood. I think that's a radical, extreme threat, and John Boehner has not mentioned that yet, but he has a chance now that's he's free from the difficulties of maintaining his speakership. So I look forward to seeing what he does in the next five weeks.

MCEVERS: So I just want to be clear. Like, his resignation was not a condition of not shutting down the government.

HUELSKAMP: His resignation had nothing to do with the government shutting down. It had to do with - he had lost the trust and confidence of the Republican conference. Not only that. After five weeks of doing town halls, I think most members came back and said, Mr. Boehner, we're tired of defending you at home. I mean, he's done some good things throughout 25 years, but it is time to move on. I think, for Republicans, and particularly those outside of Washington, this is a day that they were looking forward to, and it's time for a new leadership that can lead the Republican Party in a new direction.

MCEVERS: So what would that leadership look like? What are your plans after his speakership ends? What do you plan to get done that he couldn't get done?

HUELSKAMP: Well, as we said here today, no one has 218 votes necessary to be speaker. A lot of folks are claiming they're close and those kind of things. But we have - I think we need to sit down as a Republican Party and say, well, what - not only where do we want to go, but how do we get there? John Boehner ran the House with an iron fist. In many cases, he gave more openness and more amendments and more ability to change things around here to the Democrats than he did to Republicans. And actually, he spent more time attacking conservatives. But I think the Republican Party, as you've seen in the Republican presidential primary, is - they're tired of the establishment. John Boehner was a politician for the 1990s, and its 2015. I think we're ready to move forward.

MCEVERS: You talked about not being sure whether someone has the votes necessary to become the speaker. Once they do become the speaker, will that person, if they are a true conservative, as you're talking about, will they have the votes necessary to get legislation passed in the House?

HUELSKAMP: We absolutely have a conservative majority in the House. And every time a conservative bill was put on the floor, every time John Boehner would let us vote on amendments, we would win. Now, we have a problem with Mitch McConnell - can't figure out how to lead the Senate. And we still have someone in the White House. But for conservatives - grassroots conservatives across America - they voted in 2010, 2012 and 2014 for a conservative counterweight to the White House. And for those entire four-and-a-half years since then, all we've heard from John Boehner and the establishment is we can't do it.

You know, there's a difference between winning and losing and not trying at all. And I think it's - and I don't think it's necessarily bad for Democrats to have a new speaker. I think we need an open process that's not controlled by special interests' corporate money and is open to a free and honest debate.

MCEVERS: John Boehner wasn't the only Republican from his camp, though. I mean, some would say that your party is still deeply divided. How can you find someone who can unite the party better than he did?

HUELSKAMP: Well, it's hard to find that person inside Congress. I'm not saying there's any chance at all there'd be somebody outside of Congress, but that's allowed under the rules. So as we sit here now, there's a lot of Republicans. Their whole world is shaken up because they play the leadership game, the establishment game, and all of a sudden, they're like, oh, my gosh, who will I listen to; who am I going to follow? Well, for me, and I think most conservatives - let's hear what we have here at home. And without a doubt, there was a resounding cry that we need new leadership the Republican Party in Washington, D.C. You see it in the presidential primary. I think you saw it here today with John Boehner's resignation.

MCEVERS: Representative Huelskamp, thank you very much.

HUELSKAMP: Thank you.

MCEVERS: That's Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.