Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat, and former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, may have clashed in Congress, but their post-politics relationship is more cordial.
The two spoke at a symposium today at the Bellagio. The conversation, moderated by "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, tackled issues including infrastructure, education, the deficit and impeachment.
The event, titled Investing in America: The Future of Work, was put on by the MGM Resorts Public Policy Institute at UNLV, an organization Reid and Boehner co-chair.
With the findings of the Mueller report and some Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris advocating for starting the impeachment process, the forum turned toward the topic of congressional oversight.
It’s a subject the two men have familiarity with. Boehner created a panel to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attack, and Reid was a senator during the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
Todd asked if impeachment proceedings could possibly grind legislative action to a halt.
“I think that impeachment is a difficult decision,” Reid said. “Some say that Mueller’s report was an invitation to impeachment, but we have just a short time until the next election, and if impeachment proceedings go forward ... I think this country will spend an inordinate amount of time on impeachment and nothing else,” he said.
Boehner bemoaned the climate that he says creates incentives for politicians to listen to the more extreme voices in their party.
“They’re holding members of Congress hostage to their loud views,” he said.
Reid called No Child Left Behind — a George W. Bush-era educational reform bill that had backing from Boehner and then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts — one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of the country.
Boehner had a large impact on the country’s education policy during his tenure in the House, serving as chair of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and clashing with President Barack Obama over funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program for low-income families in the Washington area.
During the talk Tuesday, Boehner discussed impacts in students’ lives that may hinder their ability to perform well in school, saying children in poorer neighborhoods need access to places like a Boys and Girls Club or a YMCA.
“Home is a component and the communities that the kids grow up in are components,” Boehner said. “And we as a society, I believe, owe every kid a chance at a decent education.”
Reid said the federal government needs to help more to fund schools, saying students have seen the government “wash their hands” of education.
Infrastructure and the deficit
Reid, while acknowledging it may “unusual” coming from a Democrat, said the deficit is a largely ignored problem that the country will have to tackle soon.
“We are driving ourselves into bankruptcy,” Reid said.
Boehner expressed concern that retirement benefits might not be able to continue at the current rate for generations in the future.
“We’re all living 20-30 years longer than anybody ever thought,” Boehner said. “And 20-30 years longer than these retirement programs were ever designed to take into account.”
Both men said infrastructure is one of the main issues the country needs to tackle. “We have a tremendous need for infrastructure, not (just) in Nevada, but all over the country,” Reid said. He said infrastructure work has a “snowballing effect” and would create jobs.
Boehner agreed. “The infrastructure issue has to be dealt with,” he said. “Our roads are a mess; our prisons are a mess.”