COLUMBUS, Ohio — House Republican leader John Boehner has used a vulgar expression to refer to Democrat Barack Obama and his voting record in the Illinois legislature.
While campaigning for Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Wednesday, Boehner told a small crowd at a bar in the college town of Oxford that failing to vote "yes" or "no" on an issue meant a lawmaker was a "chickens---."
The Ohio congressman said the last thing the country needs is to have a "chicken" in the White House.
Boehner spokesman Jessica Towhey confirmed the remarks on Saturday but said the congressman wasn't calling Obama the vulgar term. "The point that Boehner was making was that Barack Obama has consistently avoided making tough decisions and taking tough votes, and voters need to know that," she said.
The remarks, first reported in The Miami Student, the college newspaper published at Miami University, alluded to Obama's record of voting "present" 129 times as a state lawmaker. About 100 people attended the event, most of them Republican college students.
"In Congress we have a red button, a green button and a yellow button, all right. Green means ‘yes,' ‘red' means no, and ‘yellow' means you're a chickens---," Boehner said to the loudest applause of the event. "And the last thing we need in the White House, in the Oval Office, behind that big desk, is some chicken who wants to push this yellow button."
In the Illinois General Assembly, "present" votes are common and used for far more than avoiding a difficult choice. At times lawmakers vote "present" when they have a conflict of interest. In other cases, they do it to register opposition to a procedural decision or to signal that they support a bill's goal but feel the legislation is flawed.
In Obama's case, the 129 "present" votes amounted to about 3.5 percent of the votes he cast in nearly eight years as a state senator.
During his talk, Boehner also disparaged Obama's work as a community organizer.
"This guy was a community organizer for 20 years," Boehner said. "If somebody can tell me what a community organizer is, maybe I can understand it better."
Obama spokesman Tom Reynolds called Boehner's words an angry attack.
"It's sad that John McCain and his supporters are closing their campaign with increasingly angry, desperate, false attacks instead of offering up a single thing John McCain would do differently on the economy than George Bush," Reynolds said.