April 25th, 2014
08:55 AM ET
6 months ago

Boehner public mocking of colleagues on immigration similar to what he's done in private

(CNN) - House Speaker John Boehner is mocking fellow House Republicans for saying that it's too hard to tackle the controversial issue of immigration reform.

Speaking Thursday at a meeting of the Middletown Rotary Club in his home congressional district in southwestern Ohio, an animated Boehner, talking about his colleagues on Capitol Hill, said "here's the attitude: 'Ohhhh, don't make me do this. Ohhhh, this is too hard.'"

According to CNN affiliate WKRC and other local reports, the speaker went on to say that "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," adding that "They'll take the path of least resistance."

Reminding the audience that he's been working for more than a year to convince fellow House Republicans to try and hammer out something on immigration reform, adding that "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."

Public teasing similar to private ribbing

But a senior House Republican told CNN the speaker's ribbing of his own members wasn't new and is something House GOP members are used to hearing.

"If I had a nickel for every time John called me a name I'd be a millionaire," Rep Peter King told CNN Friday in a phone interview. King said Boehner has used a mocking tone in closed door meetings to give members a hard time, but not just on immigration, and said "that's just John."

"He'll kid you about everything - your haircut, a tie, guys changing their vote from one month to the next."

Asked about possible blowback from conservatives who are offended the speaker is making fun of his own members, King said, "these guys should just lighten up and toughen up."

King recalled a recent incident when he was called in to meet with Boehner after he criticized the leadership about not moving fast enough on legislation providing aid to communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy. When Boehner walked in and saw King seated at the table in his office he greeted him by saying, "hello shithead."

The New York Republican, whose district is home to large immigrant community, sent Boehner a letter on Wednesday to say he wanted to support the speaker's efforts to move forward with immigration reform now.

A CNN congressional reporter and producer have heard Boehner use the same mocking tone towards fellow House Republicans that they have to take tough votes on such issues as immigration, in private conversations.

Responding to reports of the speaker's comments, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said "As the speaker often says to his colleagues, 'You only tease the ones you love.'"

The Democratic-controlled Senate approved a bipartisan immigration bill last year that included an eventual path toward citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. But the Senate bill stalled in the GOP-led House, where party leaders said they preferred to address the matter incrementally rather than in one comprehensive measure. Many conservatives oppose any legislation that includes a pathway towards citizenship, which they consider "amnesty."

Even though Boehner continues to say in public and private meetings that he wants to address immigration reform, he signaled that any action on immigration is unlikely this year because he said Republicans in the chamber don't trust President Barack Obama on the issue.

Boehner's public comments in Ohio reflect the dynamic that's been going on behind the scenes for months. The speaker has repeatedly pressed his members that the broken immigration system needs to be fixed. But the rank and file have resisted, saying they don't want to touch the controversial issue in an election year. Part of the speaker's pitch is that GOP members didn't get elected to just do the easy things.

Due to the backlash inside his conference last year to the massive bill that passed the Senate passed, Boehner pledged the House would only take up the issue in piecemeal bills, and focus first on enforcement. But again, after the Speaker laid out specifics for this strategy at the annual retreat in January, many Republican members appealed to Boehner to hold off because they were worried about political blow-back and potential primary challenges.

King noted that there is more discussion and movement inside the conference on the issue than there was a year ago. He argues that the politics now favor Republicans because they are likely to get Democrats to agree to stricter border controls as part of a deal to address legal status for the 11 million undocumented in the US now.

But he's not confident any vote will actually happen on the House floor. "I don't know. I think it would be difficult. Rome wasn't built in a day," the New York Republican told CNN.

Conservative reaction

Heritage Action, the political wing of the Heritage Foundation, one of oldest and most influential conservative think tanks, was critical of the speaker's comments.

"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," said Heritage Action chief executive officer Michael A. Needham, in a statement.

Boehner has become increasingly outspoken in public in recent months against some of the influential DC-based conservative groups, such as Heritage Action, which have strong ties to the tea party movement and other grassroots activists.

Key races to watch in 2014

With Congress on recess, Boehner is back in his district this week, ahead of the May 6 Ohio primary, when he once again faces multiple party challengers, including one with support from tea party activists. But the Speaker is expected to easily win re-nomination. In the general election, Boehner was unopposed in 2012, and has grabbed at least 61% of the vote in each of his 12 congressional election victories.

CNN Congressional Reporter Lisa Desjardins, and CNN's  Gabe LaMonica and Chloe Sommers contributed to this report


Filed under: 2014 • House • House of Representatives • House Republicans • Immigration • John Boehner
soundoff (216 Responses)
  1. smallfry

    If I remember correctly President Clinton proposed an Immigration Bill which gave amnesty and a path to citizenship to about 12 million illegal immigrants. This bill was passed with the promise that amnesty would never again be proposed in immigration legislation. I bet that doesn't come up in the conversations about this bill which wants to give amnesty to 20 million people who illegally entered this country.

    April 25, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  2. Chuck W

    Immigration Reform is very simple – require all employers to verify the staus of their employees and fine them $5,000 a day for each day per illegal worker who works for them. Without a way to earn a living, illegals will ultimately self-deport. Wait – that would mean fining business owners who are mostly Republican. Never mind.

    April 25, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  3. The other guy

    Hi Smallfry!

    If you watch CBS on Sunday mornings, General Electric, who has their finger on the pulse of this administration, and by extension, the country, has a commercial about powering the future. They go on to say that in 50 years, the US (if it's still the US by then. My words, not GE's) will have 90 million more people! I know the current and historic population won't bear those children. I wonder what they mean? Hmmmmmmmm.

    April 25, 2014 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  4. sly

    Several TeaParty leaders have proposed making the illegal immigrants into slaves. Their understanding is that people prefer to be slaves, rather than free.

    Perhaps we can also let them take posession of Federal Lands in Nevada – just create a new illegal immigrant nation there on public land.

    April 25, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  5. mike

    "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."

    For once I agree with Boehner, though it's partially his fault for coddling said colleagues for so long.

    April 25, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  6. Ryan in Texas

    We have enough people already.
    How is it the liberals who don't want development or sprawl are silent on this?
    More people = more development.
    There was a time when we needed immigration, when we were empty.
    Now we are full.
    Do you just keep eating when your stomach is full?
    If anything, we need to reduce legal immigration and stop illegal immigration by ending the shielding they get from our laws.
    Seriously, can you imagine the Gov't blocking laws from being enforced on citizens?
    Can you imagine the Federal Gov't telling states they can't pursue tax evasion charges on citizens?
    Or code violations?

    April 25, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  7. Chris

    " 'We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems...' " Sorry, but it seems these days, most people who go into politics are doing it for totally different reasons. MONEY is at the top of the list, power and to work the system for their own benefit are right up there, too. Making choices and solving problems for the people who elected them is waaaay down the list. Mr. Boehner really hasn't got much room to point fingers, considering the effort HE makes to do as little as possible for anyone but himself.

    April 25, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  8. john defreitas

    hum, is he finally growing a pair

    April 25, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  9. Bubba

    The only real issue I have with this article; is referring to the Heritage Action and its parent Heritage Foundation as "think tanks". Both these groups are known for their closed minded hatred of anything not like them (white, old, and greedy), however, hate is an emotion and not a thought. Thus, the Heritage Action and its parent Heritage Foundation should be referred to as "emotion tanks".

    April 25, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  10. Roland

    Amnesty or not, these folks are here to stay; we have no means of forcing them out of the country so we may as well accept them and their tax dollars. Illegals working and taking jobs from Americans and then not needing to pay taxes on the money earned at those jobs is only lost dollars all around, tax dollars, and welfare dollars.
    Accept them and tax them and move along.

    April 25, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  11. joeazona

    he is party of the Oligarchy that is now the USA This is a fact! read the reports by Princeton and Northwestern universities.

    April 25, 2014 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  12. Weeder

    John Boehner's problem with his fellow Republicans reminds me of a time when my uncle wanted help to weed his garden. Weed pullers can get scarce when the sun is hot and initiative sorely lacking and the help a sorry bunch. Congress is a sorry bunch, they truly are and doing their job not important to them.

    April 25, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  13. Jim

    Good negotiations, the ones that get broadly accepted and are longest lasting, are the ones where both parties give and both parties get...not the ones like the Affordable Care Act where one side rammed their vision through in the middle of the night without a single vote from the other side.

    Boehner is trying to get something done – and he has been around long enough to know that compromise is necessary in a functioning democracy. The news organizations that cater to their viewership (for ratings) always hype the issue by citing the most vocal partisan viewpoints on each side, because they are the loudest critics...but it is best for all of us Americans for our government to FUNCTION not just be an endless series of battles where the winner tries to take all.

    What we have been witnessing for the past several years is "divided we fall" – and how far do we need to go in this downward spiral before we tell our elected officials to stop throwing the monkey wrenches into the works whenever they don't get their way? Let's send the message for them to start working together for the good of the republic instead of trying to dominate the other side to advance their partisan agendas!

    April 25, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  14. NameTom

    On this one question of immigration, there should be a referendum on the ballot in every state in November. The Dems claim that the American people are for amnesty, according to their polls. Leave this issue to the American voters. I believe it will go down in flames! This method would be better than letting politicians choose for us, because they're being paid by unions etc. to push amnesty through.

    April 25, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  15. Matt

    Beohner seems to be mocking himself.

    April 25, 2014 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  16. Chuck

    Democrat Congressmen and Senators, do nothing all day, why is it always on the GOP?

    April 25, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
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