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Boehner mocks House GOP for not tackling immigration reform bill faces backlash

The Democrats in the House of Representatives are not the only ones upset with the Republican majority the House for not working on immigration reform, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH is as well and ribbed his fellow congressmen at luncheon on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at a luncheon held at Brown's Run County Club in Madison Township in Ohio. The speaker made fun that the reason his fellow congressman are not taking up immigration reform is because they find it too difficult a task. The Cincinnati Enquirer was the first news source to report on Boehner's comments, and the rest of the media, conservatives and the Democrats have seized on the speaker's own criticism.

Speaker of the House John Boehner mocked his fellow Republicans for finding it too diffult to deal with immigration reform, Brown's Run County Club, Madison Township, Ohio, April 24, 2014
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Boehner spoke about a number of topics at the luncheon criticizing the GOP controlled House. Commenting on health care, President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, which the GOP calls Obamacare, Boehner believes; "(To) repeal Obamacare … isn't the answer. The answer is repeal and replace." Speaking on the Tea Party, Boehner criticized the extreme organization influencing the movement; "I made it pretty clear I'll stand with the tea party but I'm not standing with these three or four groups in Washington who are using the tea party for their own personal benefit."

Giving his opinion on education, Boehner believes; "I don't think the issue with education is money…. I think there is a structural problem. It's not about our kids." Boehner thinks "It's a balancing act in terms of how do you provide those services, how do you provide that education without unduly diverting resources for the rest of the kids." Continuing the speaker thinks the Skills Act is a good solution for job training; "The idea is to consolidate these programs so we get more money out so that community colleges, technical colleges and other programs can get people the skills they need." Finally commenting on the deficit, Boehner advocated the GOP budget, saying; "you can in fact over a period of time pay off the debt. Our budget passed right before Easter is a 75-year plan." House Speaker Boehner reserved his most blatant criticism for immigration.

With every analysis, the Speaker made some not so subtle jabs at his colleagues and their positions on the issues, but he was the harshest when it came to immigration reform. Boehner mocked Republican representatives, joking sarcastically; "Here's the attitude. Ohhhh. Don't make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard." Boehner however, pointed out; "We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to. … They'll take the path of least resistance." The speaker emphasized for nearly a year and half he has been trying to convince the Republicans in the House to work on immigration reform, elaborating Boehner stated; "I've had every brick and bat and arrow shot at me over this issue just because I wanted to deal with it. I didn't say it was going to be easy."

The speaker's sarcasm prompted his spokesman Brendan Buck to issue a statement for damage control on the Boehner's immigration reform remarks, in an email he wrote; "As the speaker often says to his colleagues, you only tease the ones you love." Continuing, Buck stated "Everyone can tell their editors to chill. The House's focus remains on jobs and the economy." Concluding on this specific issue, Boehner's spokesman said; "Nothing has changed. As he's said many times, the Speaker believes step-by-step reform is important, but it won't happen until the president builds trust and demonstrates a commitment to the rule of law." In fact House Speaker Boehner remarks at the luncheon made his spokesman very busy trying to clarify Boehner's remarks as not to offend to the conservative base the speaker was criticizing.

Boehner's comments are especially significant during the midterm campaign election with the Tea Party backing J.D. Winteregg in the Ohio Republican primary, and the speaker is facing challenges and competition for his speakership. The Democrats and Conservatives have seized on the speaker admitting that the Republicans are the ones blocking and preventing immigration reform legislation from passing in the House. Greg Sargent writing in the Washington Post noted "their real significance to the immigration debate':" Boehner "has now effectively admitted that the real obstacle to solving the immigration problem is House Republicans."

Among Democrats the reactions have been focused on urging Boehner to bring the immigration bill to a vote. Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y. expressed; "The American people are calling for action, the business community is calling for action, and now, more and more House Republicans are calling for action. Speaker Boehner must stop listening to only the fringe elements of his party, and bring this bill up for a vote. We can't wait another day." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA also found the comments a positive turn and wrote on Twitter; "Sounds like @SpeakerBoehner needs to heed his own words, and bring #immigration reform up for a vote #TimeIsNow."

The Republican reaction was far ranging from vehement opposition to finding Boehner's words a welcome relief. On the Conservative side, a group closely associated with The Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action CEO, Mike Needham released a harsh statement rebuking Boehner's remarks, expressing that "It's disappointing, but by now not surprising, that the Republican Speaker is attacking conservatives looking to retake the Senate. The Republican Party should be large enough for fact-based policy debates. Unfortunately, John Boehner is more interested in advancing the agenda of high-powered DC special interests than inspiring Americans with a policy vision that allows freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society to flourish."

Among members of Republican members of Congress the statements were not as stinging. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-ID also did not appreciate the speaker's remarks, "If he wants the Republican Conference to follow him on this issue, he needs to stand up for House Republicans, instead of catering to the media and special interest groups," Labrador still insists "The problem is Obama, not House Republicans." One Republican who welcomed Boehner comments was Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, who voted for the Senate immigration bill, he took to Twitter writing, "Encouraged by @SpeakerBoehner's efforts to bring immigration reform legislation to the House floor."

At the same time Republicans in the Senate sent President Barack Obama a letter on Thursday, April 24, 2014 objecting to Obama and his administration considering taking executive action to curb deportations of illegal immigrants, calling it a "disregard of the constitution." The Associated Press reported that the letter headed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the "Top Republican," Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Charles Grassley, R-IA, additionally 20 other GOP senators signed the letter.

The Senators oppose the proposed plans to make more lax the enforcement of the immigrations laws, stating; "According to reports, the changes under consideration would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement and discard the rule of law and the notion that the United States has enforceable borders." The new rules would "limit" the number of deportations of illegal immigrants with non-violent criminal records including illegal border crossings. Republicans in both houses are opposed to the president taking any action regarding immigration reform, and believe that it is Congress' responsibility.

Before his most recent comments Boehner has repeatedly cited a lack of trust as the main reason why the House will most probably not act on immigration this year. Boehner, R-OH spoke about immigration reform on Fox News's "Kelly File" on Monday, April 14, explaining the trust issue is behind the House's reluctance to pass any immigration legislation; "The American people want us to deal with immigration reform. I've tried to get the House to move on this now for the last 15 or 16 months. But every time the president ignores the law, like the 38 times he has on Obamacare, our members look up and go, 'Wait a minute: You can't have immigration reform without strong border security and internal enforcement, how can we trust the president to actually obey the law and enforce the law that we would write?'"

On his Fox News appearance, Boehner also warned the president that any executive action will absolutely ensure that the House will not act at all on immigration reform this year. House Speaker Boehner cautioned; "That will make it almost impossible to ever do immigration reform, because he will spoil the well to the point where no one will trust him by giving him a new law that he will implement the way the Congress intended."

The speaker's spokesman Brendan Buck on Friday, April 25 tried to refocus the issue and problem with immigration reform back on President Obama in effort to deflect Boehner blaming the GOP the day before and the backlash he is facing. Buck stated; "As the speaker has said many times, he believes step-by-step reform is important, but it won't happen until the president builds trust and demonstrates a commitment to the rule of law."

President Obama made it clear in a White House meeting with six faith leaders on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 that he will not take any unilateral action or sign any executive action that would push through immigration reform without Congress. According to the White House Obama "emphasized that while his Administration can take steps to better enforce and administer immigration laws, nothing can replace the certainty of legislative reform and this permanent solution can only be achieved by Congress."

There is still a wide chasm between the president and the House on immigration reform. More or less President Obama wants a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. The GOP outlined a "set of principles" on immigration reform during their Republican Congressional retreat at the end of January 2014. The Republicans prefer passing piecemeal legislation rather than one sweeping bill, and do not want to give citizenship to the illegal immigrants instead they are willing to give them some legal status that would be acquired through a rigorous process, but citizenship is out of the question. House Republicans also find border security to be the top provision of an immigration reform bill. Earlier this year Obama expressed also he would be more open to listening to the Republican Congress' proposal and stipulations for an immigration bill, but he now seems to returning to a firm stance as the elections approach.

Immigration reform has stalled since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill on June 27, 2013, which written by a bipartisan the Gang of Eight senators by a vote of 68 to 32. The bill included a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants presently in the country that would take 14 years, and tougher border security provisions, which helped garner 14 Republicans votes. Since then the Republican House of Representatives has stalled on immigration legislation.

Democrats in the House are taking matters into their own hands to force a vote on the Senate's immigration bill; according to Roll Call they have filed a discharged petition. The petition requires a majority of the House to sign to ensure a vote. Roll Call reports that so far 191 Democrats have signed the petition and three Republicans; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, Jeff Denham, R-CA and David Valadao, R-CA, nine Democrats still have not signed the petition. The Democrats are now targeting 30 Republicans that have "previously" stated they "support" immigration reform, hoping to get them to sign the petition or pressure them in the midterm elections should they not sign it. The Democrats are asking these Republicans to "put their pen where their mouth is."

Democrats may find that Boehner's comments might mean that an immigration reform vote is closer than they originally believed. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL who vehemently opposes the Senate immigration bill believes that "House GOP leaders are considering a plan to move an apparently similar immigration plan this summer." More Republicans representatives are supporting an immigration bill, Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock, both from Illinois made pro-immigration reform videos for the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition earlier this week on April 22. While last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Boehner speaking at a fundraiser stated he was "hell-bent" to pass immigration reform. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL a Republican supporter and advocate for immigration reform told Roll Call; "It is as close as we have ever been. It is still a big, big, heavy lift. I think we're going to get there."


Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.

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