Ahead of the State of the Union on Tuesday night, TODAY's Matt Lauer sat down with House Speaker John Boehner to defend his comments that President Obama lacks courage to fix the nation's growing deficit and explain where he thinks the country is headed.
"Listen, I think the president's out of ideas when it comes to how to fix the economy," Boehner said. "Because everything that he seems to want to do is more tax hikes and more stimulus spending."
Earlier in the day, Boehner told reporters he didn't think Obama had "the guts" to take the steps needed to restore the economy.
"I think he'd like to deal with it (fiscal problems), but to do the kind of heavy lifting that needs to be done, I don't think he's got the guts to do it," he said. "He understands there is a spending problem. He understands that we need changes and reforms, and we need to solve these problems."
While Boehner accused the president of lacking courage to stand up to his own party, he acknowledged that people could say the same about him and the Republicans he leads in the House.
“Listen, I've had my troubles with my own party. There's no question about it,” he said. “But it was never about the courage to step up and do the right thing for the country.”
Boehner insisted that “the president and I get along fine,” despite his recent combative comments.
“We come from very different worlds. He has a liberal ideology, I come from a more conservative side,” he said. "But having said that, the American people on Election Day gave us a mandate, a Republican Congress and a Democrat president. And the mandate was to find a way to work together. Find common ground."
The one area where they might find agreement is on immigration reform, on which Boehner said he would be willing to defy those in his party to work with Democrats and pass a comprehensive package.
“We’ll have to see what the bill is. We’ve got to work through this in a bipartisan way. We can’t get the cart before the horse here,” he said.
A more difficult topic to reach agreement upon will be gun control. Boehner said the nation must take a broader look at the issue and examine the source of violence.
“If you look at each of these mass shootings, each of the shooters, all had mental health issues. How could we do a better job there of controlling their access to weapons? What do we do about school safety? There are a lot of things we ought to look at,” he said.
But he didn’t say whether he agreed with the National Rifle Association’s proposal to place armed guards in schools.
“There are a lot of ideas out there. The question is what will truly help bring down the violence in our society,” he said. “I think taking this easy approach on putting more rules on lawful gun owners — remember, they’re lawful gun owners. The people who own guns illegally, they don't pay attention anyway.”
Boehner also showed a softer side during his interview. He discussed a Washington-based scholarship program he supports and his decision to reserve his House box seats during the president’s address for two fourth-grade students from an inner city school.
“You never know. If you give them an opportunity, they might get a big idea. They might follow their dream,” he said.
For those two girls, seeing an African American president address the nation could be a pivotal moment, Boehner said. He acknowledged that while the nation struggles to send more minority lawmakers to Capitol Hill, he’s seen improvement during his 22 years in office.
“I would guess the number of other faces in the congress has more than doubled,” he said. “Our society is making progress. Our society will continue to make progress.”
TODAY's Meena Hart Duerson contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Tue Feb 12, 2013 8:44 PM EST