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Boehner Steps Back From Immigration Comment on Colleagues

By Michael C. Bender and Derek Wallbank
April 30, 2014 11:49 AM EDT 665 Comments
House Speaker John Boehner told reporters, “You tease the ones you love.”
Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg
House Speaker John Boehner told reporters, “You tease the ones you love.”

House Speaker John Boehner said he’s still pushing to revamp U.S. immigration law even after mocking fellow Republicans for not backing legislation because it’s “too hard.”

“You tease the ones you love,” Boehner told reporters yesterday in Washington, his first public comments since mimicking his colleagues last week at a Rotary Club event in Ohio, his home state.

“Here’s the attitude: Ohhh, don’t make me do this. Ohhh, this is too hard,” Boehner said then, scrunching up his face and raising his voice several pitches.

Some Republicans, such as Idaho Representative Raul Labrador, said the speaker’s comments in Ohio would make it tougher to pass an immigration-law revision sought by such companies as Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Caterpillar Inc.

U.S. Immigration Reform Takes a Detour on the Hill

Still, lawmakers and advocates said there may be an opportunity to advance legislation in June or July. Primary votes will be over in as many as 32 states by July, and House members will be at the Capitol for four weeks, their longest consecutive work period before the August recess.

“For Boehner to continue to send signals -- albeit confusing ones -- that he wants to get this done, it slowly but surely builds momentum,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based group that works with businesses.

Immigration Framework

Boehner raised expectations for rewriting the immigration law in January, when he published a framework that would legalize undocumented workers without granting U.S. citizenship.

He put the plan on hold when Republican lawmakers pushed back, saying they didn’t want the divisive issue to distract from their focus on blaming Democrats for the troubled rollout of Obamacare.

Residents of Republican-held House districts are, on average, 75 percent white, and many lawmakers worry about a backlash from the party’s base if they ease immigration laws. That compares with Democrats’ districts, which are 51 percent white, according to the Cook Political Report.

The Democratic-led Senate passed an immigration bill, S. 744, in June that includes increased border security and a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

While Boehner opposes the comprehensive Senate plan, Noorani and others note that he hasn’t taken the issue off the table.

Citizenship Path

Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, said last week that he’ll introduce a bill by June that would give undocumented children a path to citizenship and make legalization possible for adults who hadn’t committed other crimes.

Also last week, a trio of House Republicans from Illinois - - Adam Kinzinger, Aaron Schock and John Shimkus -- expressed support for some form of legal status for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers told a newspaper in her home state of Washington that legislation was possible in the coming months.

‘By August’

“I believe there is a path that we get a bill on the floor by August,” she said, according to a Spokane Spokesman-Review story on April 25.

Today, Republican Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Mick Mulvaney will join Partnership for a New American Economy at an event in Washington to unveil a TV ad urging Americans to call lawmakers and tell them to ease immigration laws.

The New York-based group, an association of majors and business leaders, was founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Asked yesterday whether there would be a vote on immigration legislation, Boehner said, “We’re going to continue to work with our members and have discussions and to see if there’s a way forward.”

Boehner said he went too far in teasing Republicans at the April 24 event in Ohio, saying his comments were “misunderstood.” He discussed the moment yesterday at a private Republican meeting where he blamed President Barack Obama for the impasse on immigration policy.

“I wanted to make sure that members understood that the biggest impediment we have to immigration reform is that the American people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass,” he said.

‘Rib People’

“Our members know me, alright?” Boehner said yesterday. “Sometimes I can rib people just a little too much sometimes. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

In the private meeting with Republicans, Boehner “said it didn’t come off like he intended it,” Florida Republican Ted Yoho said. Asked how it was intended, Yoho said, “you’d have to ask him.”

Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz told reporters that Boehner “tried to put the genie back in the bottle” by blaming Obama, not fellow House Republicans, for inaction on immigration.

A number of House Republicans have rejected advancing an immigration measure containing provisions that could be considered amnesty for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters that Boehner’s remarks in Ohio were “accurate and that’s what he believes.”

“I don’t think he was kidding when he said that,” Hoyer said. “No one ought to be surprised he had a reaction from his members.”

Democrats say the House would be able to pass the Senate immigration bill with Democratic support if House leaders would agree to bring it to a vote.

House leaders reject that approach and instead have said any legislation would move in a piecemeal way, starting with increased border security. Democrats haven’t been able to force a vote on a similar measure, H.R. 15. Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s outline of planned legislative action through May, released last week, didn’t include immigration legislation.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael C. Bender in Washington at mbender10@bloomberg.net; Derek Wallbank in Washington at dwallbank@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net Justin Blum

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