In a closed-door meeting with the GOP conference on Tuesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner downplayed his mocking of fellow Republicans last week and said there is no "conspiracy" to spring an immigration overhaul later this summer.
The meeting came as many of the more conservative members of the GOP caucus are still fuming over the critical comments Boehner made at a Rotary Club meeting in his district.
Afterward, Boehner reiterated his support for an immigration overhaul, but he said it's up to President Barack Obama to prove the administration will enforce immigration laws, a position echoed by other GOP lawmakers.
“It is what it is,” fellow Ohio Republican Jim Jordan said. “I think the conference position is pretty clear that we don’t feel like we can deal with this White House to operate in any kind of good faith.” Boehner defended his Rotary Club outburst from last week.
“There was no mocking,” Boehner told reporters following the weekly meeting. “Listen: You all know me. You tease the ones you love. But some people misunderstood what I had to say. And I wanted to make sure that members understood that the biggest impediment we have in moving immigration reform forward is [the president].”
That’s a return to familiar GOP rhetoric on immigration. But, according to Boehner, when he stood before a Rotary Club in Middletown, Ohio, the lack of action on immigration isn’t the president’s fault; it’s the Republicans'.
“Here's the attitude: 'Ohhhh, don't make me do this. Ohhhh, this is too hard,' ” Boehner said in a whiny voice.
Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp, one of the most ardent Boehner critics from the right, said the speaker’s positions “seem to change pretty regularly.”
“We’re not certain what he wants to do day by day,” Huelskamp said. “One day he says he’s for comprehensive immigration reform, he wants to keep Obamacare, the next day, the next moment, two months later, it’s a different story.”
Huelskamp seemed openly offended by Boehner’s comments. According to Huelskamp, Boehner told the conference when he became speaker “that he’d never say anything to embarrass us.”
“Mocking us,” Huelskamp said, “really hurts his cause.”
Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman agreed that Boehner’s comments didn’t help his standing within the conference.
“So when things like this happen, maybe it was jokingly, you got to take all these things, especially an issue like this which is very sensitive, very seriously,” Stutzman said.
Of course, Stutzman was more than ready to give Boehner the benefit of the doubt, noting that the speaker was “probably joking around a little bit,” as he is wont to do. “But I think he shouldn’t have let it be perceived that Republicans are stopping immigration,” Stutzman said. “And he should have said what he did today that, you know, the president has to be at the table as well.”
One member characterized Boehner's comments as backpedaling, but not an apology.
“He didn’t really apologize,” said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. “He just said that he wasn’t referring to members of the Republican Conference. He went on to say that he’d like to see immigration reform. As far as I’m concerned, it’s amnesty-over-my-dead-body.”
Broun, who is running for Senate and won’t have a say over Boehner’s fate as speaker in the 114th Congress, said the Ohio Republican “was just being typical John Boehner.”
“He is who he is,” Broun said. “And the members of the new Congress will have to decide who they want to be the new speaker.”
As border security hard-liners pushed back against the resurgent talk of an immigration deal, a group of evangelical leaders descended on the Capitol to lobby members — mostly Republians — to take action.
Brought together by the Evangelical Immigration Table, which describes itself as "a broad coalition of evangelical organizations and leaders advocating for immigration reform consistent with biblical values," the pastors hope to deliver a message that appeals to members of Congress on the far-right end of the political spectrum who might be inclined not to support any legislation that smacks of "amnesty."
“I’m here today because in 2011, the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution on immigration reform. The leadership of the convention was concerned that so many conservative Christians were having their views shaped by talk radio and other news outlets, and we wanted them to come to a position shaped by Biblical teaching," said Bryan Wright, senior pastor at the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2010 to 2012, in a statement. "Now it’s time to bring these Biblical teachings to our leaders in Washington, D.C., and ask for immigration reform this year.”
Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who has been a firm "no" on immigration reform, said he enjoyed meeting face-to-face with the advocates who happened to hail from his district — but they didn't change his mind on the issue.
"My response to them was, No. 1, a policy of legalizing the people who are here, the sort of easy way out, would in the long run put 40 million new people into our country, which would change the nature of our country, and that would be a bad thing, not to mention breaking the bank, etc.," Rohrabacher said.
Emma Dumain contributed to this report.