Updated at 12:30 pm EST
Guess who won’t be going to Sochi.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio says he’s never met President Vladimir Putin of Russia, host of the upcoming winter Olympic Games and harborer of the fugitive national security contractor Edward Snowden. And Boehner has no interest in meeting Putin.
“Listen, I just think he’s a thug,” Boehner said of Putin during an appearance last night on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
“I think he’s treated his neighbors in a disrespectful way,” the House speaker said of the Russian president. “And, frankly, I think the president ought to stand up to him and better protect America’s interests and our allies, especially in Eastern Europe.”
“I don’t believe that such a high-ranking lawmaker could have said such a thing,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said in a telephone interview today.
Oh, he said it all right — that and more:
The speaker was asked if he agrees with the assessment of House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers that Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who stole top secret information about U.S. surveillance of Internet and telephone communications, got it published in newspapers and fled to Russia under indictment for espionage back home, had been working with Russia from the start.
That “may or may not be true,” Boehner said. “All I can say is that I think Snowden is a traitor to the country.” The NSA “may have made mistakes,” he said, but it exists to keep Americans safe. “We’re going to take a look at what needs to be tweaked.”
On the home front, the speaker conceded that his party’s ill-fated attempt to shut down the government in October until President Barack Obama acceded to cuts in his health-care program was just that — ill-fated. But as the House’s leader, he said, he had to follow the plot.
“When you have my job, there’s something you have to learn,” Boehner said. “When I looked up, I saw my colleagues going this way. And you learn that a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.”
“So I said, `You want to fight this fight? I’ll go fight the fight with you,”’ Boehner said. “But it was a very predictable disaster. And so the sooner we got it over with, the better.”
Asked about his relationship with Obama, Leno maintained that the two “get along fine,” though they come from different places: “I’m right of center. I think he’s way left of center.”
Asked by Leno if he might like to run for president, Boehner said: “Listen, I like to play golf. I like to cut my own grass. I do drink red wine. I smoke cigarettes. And I’m not giving that up to be president of the United States.”
— Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) January 24, 2014
– Derek Wallbank contributed to this report from Washington, with Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow.