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Cantor criticizes Obama on GOP attacks after immigration reform bill call

House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA is finally speaking out against President Barack Obama's constant attacks on Republicans after the president phoned him and pressured the House to pass the Senate's immigration reform bill on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Majority Leader Cantor issued a press release detailing the president's call late on Wednesday, where Obama urged the Republicans to pass the legislation. Obama had just issued a statement earlier in the day attacking the GOP and blaming them entirely for immigration reform failure. Cantor's comments come after the Obama administration has renewed its push for immigration honoring the one-year anniversary since the Senate introduced their bipartisan immigration reform bill.

President Barack Obama comments on his phone call with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor about immigration reform during a White House press conference, April 17, 2014; Cantor called Obama out for over criticizing the House Republicans
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The GOP majority leader was upset with Obama for publicly insulting the Republicans, and the incessant attacks, and then asks them to pass a bill most of the party is uncomfortable with. Cantor stated and rightly so, that Obama's method is not what a president does if he looks to work to with Congress and compromise with them on legislative issues and his agenda priorities. Cantor wrote; "Today, President Obama called me to discuss his desire for comprehensive immigration reform. The President called me hours after he issued a partisan statement which attacked me and my fellow House Republicans and which indicated no sincere desire to work together. After five years, President Obama still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress to get things done. You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue."

Continuing, Cantor said he reiterated the GOP's position on the Senate passed immigration, writing; "I told the President the same thing I told him the last time we spoke. House Republicans do not support Senate Democrats' immigration bill and amnesty efforts, and it will not be considered in the House." Cantor did tell Obama that the Republicans in the House want to work with him and job creation legislation; "I also reiterated to the President there are other issues where we can find common ground, build trust and get America working again." Concluding his statement "I hope the President can stop his partisan messaging, and begin to seriously work with Congress to address the issues facing working middle class Americans that are struggling to make ends meet in this economy."

President Obama held a press conference on Thursday, April 17 announcing that his Affordable Care, Act, the health care law reach 8 million enrollees, a million more than the administration's target goal. Obama was asked about the Cantor call at the press conference, where the president seemed to refute any bad blood between the two, stating; "Well, I actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor yesterday." This response elicited a "really" from the reporter. Continuing President Obama commented; "You're always kind of surprised by the mismatch between press releases and the conversation. I wished him happy Passover…. So it was a pretty friendly conversation."

The president gave his more rose colored and positive spin on the conversation, and described the contents of the call and his message to Cantor on immigration reform. Obama explained that he told Cantor that; "there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. It would strengthen our economy, it would help with our security, and it would provide relief to families who -- many of whom have lived here for years and who have children and family members who are U.S. citizens; and that Congress should act; and that right now what's holding us back is House Republican leadership not willing to go ahead and let the process move forward.

President Obama admitted that the House majority leader's press release was referring more to the president's earlier statement on Wednesday, April 16 about immigration reform. Obama observed; "I think in his press release, I gather he was referring to the observation that we'd made a day earlier that it had now been a year since the Senate had passed a strong bipartisan bill, and that although we had heard a lot of talk about the House Republicans being interested in doing something, nothing had happened yet, and suggesting that we need some urgency here. I still feel the same way."

Despite Cantor's criticism, Obama still blamed the Republicans for blocking the bill's passage, but ratcheted down his rhetoric. The president acknowledged; "I know there are Republicans in the House, as there are Republicans in the Senate, who know this is the right thing to do. I also know it's hard politics for Republicans because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this." Obama sounded less harsh, but gave the same message, saying; "We know what the right thing to do is. It's a matter of political will. It's not any longer a matter of policy. And I'm going to continue to encourage them to get this done."

After a backlash from minority groups, Obama backtracked on his declaration that he will not take any unilateral executive actions, and promised to review one more time to see if anything can be done to alter the administration's deportation policy. Obama explained the process; "As far as our actions, Jeh Johnson, our new head of the Department of Homeland Security, has been talking to everybody -- law enforcement, immigrant rights groups -- to do a thorough-going review of our approach towards enforcement. And we're doing that in consultation with Democrats and Republicans and with any interested party…. We're going to review it one more time to see if there's more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with I think the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn't be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding."

After recounting the virtues and economic benefits of passing immigration reform, Obama then concluded that the best solution would be Congress passing a bill. Obama stated; "I do think that the system we have right now is broken. I'm not alone in that opinion. The only way to truly fix it is through congressional action. We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could."

After meeting with six faith leaders in the White House Oval Office on Tuesday, April 15 and pledging support for the Senate passed comprehensive immigration bill on Wednesday morning, April 16, Obama released a statement expressing support for the bill that has been stalled since moving to the House in June 2013. As usual the president placed the entire blame for any immigration bill not passing on the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Although Obama always attacks the GOP he has stepped up his rhetoric in this midterm election year, especially with control of the now Democratic Senate precariously in the balance.

Blaming the House GOP Obama stated; "Unfortunately, Republicans in the House of Representatives have repeatedly failed to take action, seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform." Continuing the president expressed; "Instead of advancing commonsense reform and working to fix our immigration system, House Republicans have voted in favor of extreme measures like a punitive amendment to strip protections from 'Dreamers.'" President Obama concluded his statement saying; "We have a chance to strengthen our country while upholding our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and I urge House Republicans to listen to the will of the American people and bring immigration reform to the House floor for a vote."

The president's statement elicited negative responses from the House GOP leadership. Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-OH spokesman Brendan Buck issued a statement which read; "The speaker has made clear many times that common-sense, step-by-step immigration reform is an important priority. Unfortunately, by regularly ignoring and manipulating laws like Obamacare, President Obama has created an environment in which too many question whether he can be trusted to follow whatever law is passed. Getting anything done will be difficult until the president changes his approach." While Cantor's spokesman Rory Cooper also issued a statement, saying; "Leader Cantor has repeatedly said he opposes the Senate immigration bill and their amnesty efforts, and it will not be considered by the House. Partisan statements like this one contribute to the distrust that makes reform difficult."

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," however it highly unlikely they will gain supporters among the Republicans to force Speaker Boehner into putting the bill to a vote in the House.

Obama and Democrats have chosen economic opportunity and immigration reform as their key issues in the midterm election campaign. The Democrats are on the edge where they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. They already realize regaining control of the House of Representatives is virtually impossible at this point. Obama however, is facing more criticism from minority groups over immigration reform than the Republicans he is attacking, because they blame the president from the increased numbers of deportations and for not taking any executive actions to curb this trend and help illegal immigrants in the country. These groups are promising that the Democrats will lose midterm elections votes unless the president takes action.

Presidents often see their parties lose seats in the second midterm elections of their terms, and Obama and Democrats are trying to curb that precedent. President Obama will no doubtably continue his campaign rhetoric as the year progresses, boasting of his administration's accomplishments, focusing on economic issues important to the Democratic base and included in the Obama budget and attack, attack and mock the Republicans hoping it will be enough to keep the Senate come November.


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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