April 25th, 2014
08:55 AM ET
9 years 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.'"

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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. Michael in SA

    @Old_Hippie.... seems simple doesn't it? Republicans want to make this harder than it really is... their pockets won't be lined with gold if they tackle these issues, that is the real issue here.

    @Squeezebox... isn't that why we now have a fence, border patrol, both increased significantly under Bush? Guess that waste of money didn't solve the border issues... hmm..

    April 25, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  2. berniecat@outlook.com

    when are we going to stop the CUBANS ?? they just float over and that's it ! they have destroyed Miami and more , they suck Medicaid and food stamps and no one says anything !! why???

    April 25, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  3. s

    I am not a fan of yours Speaker Boehner I will give you credit you finally said something about this quagmire and showed some leadership.

    April 25, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  4. ed dugan

    To me its easy. Stop ALL imigration until they can figure out how to admit only college grads. Deporting a few million hispanics would also help greatly. Make that many million. They are responsible for ruining out culture and we need to get rid of that plague. Worse than Ebola!

    April 25, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  5. Austin

    The solution has been under their noses all along: just require every single job in America to be subject to the minimum wage, regardless of citizenship status. If I'm a small business owner, there's no way I take the risks of hiring an undocumented person if I have to pay him the same as I'd pay the American citizen.

    April 25, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  6. Ancient Texan

    Immigration reform was NEVER an Obama priority. He could have passed that easily prior to the 2010 mid-term elections and didn't even attempt it. Open borders and instantaneous citizenship seems to be his real goal.

    April 25, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  7. Austin

    Not that I'd ever vote for him, but I'll tell you, once he grew the stones to disregard the lunatic fringe within his party, this guy became a lot more entertaining to watch.

    April 25, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  8. David Harvey

    Where does Heritage Action, a multi million dollar lobbying group, located less then half a mile from the Capitol building, get off bashing Boehner for pandering to "high powered DC special interest groups" ?

    April 25, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  9. Austin

    The single most effective piece of immigration reform in the long term would be to make the minimum wage apply to every American job regardless of citizenship status.

    No business owner is going to take the risks of hiring an undocumented person if they have to pay them just as much as the American citizen.

    April 25, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  10. wylieKOT

    As a Republican I appreciate Speaker Boehner's comments. As long as the Republican party remains hostage to the All-or-Nothing, Scorched Earth philosophy of the Tea Party and born-again extremist elements of the Republican party, the Republican Party will become un-electable, irrelevant and ultimately non-existant. Which ironically will usher in a non-ending string of Democratic legislatures and administrations that will be increasingly liberal and socialistic. Contrary to the right wing agenda. They can choose to endorse moderate Republican policies, compromise more often and become Statesmen again or say hello to the next Obama in a couple of years.

    April 25, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  11. Norcalmojo

    GOP is bent on suicide. Immigration reform is their last popular issue.

    I guess they're going to try to win on the old "Abortion and lower taxes for the rich" platform again.

    They should expect the same results.

    April 25, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  12. Juan23Four

    Give them a green card (eventually) after they go through background checks and pay a fine for being in the country illegally. Allow them to work legally and pay taxes, but no one who was illegal should have a path to citizenship.

    If this is all about not having to live in the shadows and having a better life than they left, which I have nothing against, that should be enough. It becomes political when you add citizenship to the mix, because whatever political party appears to have championed that citizenship is salivating over the prospect of millions of new citizens voting for their party. Keep the politics out of it and let these people be productive members of society, without voting rights.

    April 25, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  13. Jeff

    I see firsthand from a Mexican whose entire self-esteem and sense of self value and usefulness is inextricably tied to work, who complains that the government is cracking down on companies that hire illegal aliens. I have to buy food for him. I have to help him pay his rent. I don't have the money myself for this stuff–I have had a struggle in life. So what the hell are these blasted politicians in D.C. DOING sitting on their blasted behinds?(A–NOTHING!!) They are the ones who are useless. Out here there is a spirit of usefulness, of can do it. In D.C., you have the Millionaire Congress doing nothing while the President shuts the shades to his house and says "I'm not playing anymore with them Michelle–they're meanies". WTF??!!!!

    April 25, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  14. TNCarol

    There have already been 9 Amnesties with each one we have been promised that this is the last and that we will gain control of the border. This one with with millions of Americans unemployed and under employed, myself being amoung them, letting 11 million jobs be filled by those who have broken or laws, stolen our identies and lowered our mean income while prices have gone up, not to mention gotten wellfair, food stamps, medicade that we have paid for and now have to worry about our childern paying for is treason.

    April 25, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  15. rs

    David Harvey

    Where does Heritage Action, a multi million dollar lobbying group, located less then half a mile from the Capitol building, get off bashing Boehner for pandering to "high powered DC special interest groups" ?
    It's a Koch-run TEA Party group, that's how.

    April 25, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  16. john pickett

    Wasting time trying to repeal good laws is easy. Finding time to work together to pass minimum wage act & a budget is hard

    April 25, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  17. obawendon

    @Austin, maybe folks were not paying attention then, but they sure are now. We have had all these years with a Congress who refuse to do their jobs due to bigotry, party lines, being bought by rich lobbyists or whatever. Regardless of the reasoning, our elected officials look like fools, and people are aware.

    April 25, 2014 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  18. Chuck


    April 25, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  19. Rudy NYC


    Both sides are unwilling to give in a little to make a solution to this problem. The GOP wants several small bills and the Dems want one huge bill. The Dems could easily call the GOP bluff by making some small bills but if the GOP in the House passed them then there goes the whole cry of obstruction.
    You're deluding yourself about the Republicans. They don't want anything done. Several small bills, HA. If that were the actual case, then how come they have yet to propose, sponsor, or much less vote on a bill in the House that they have controlled for the past few years? Hmm? Why not?

    Because like everything else, they have no plan to fix it. Big business likes the cheap labor pool because it hurts unions. Why else do you think Reagan, Bush-41, and Bush-43 all instituted policies that made it attractive for illegal workers to come here? Why else do you think Republicans really do not want to do anything about illegal immigrants? The proof is in their actions, not their words. Do nothing.

    April 25, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  20. Anonymous

    This is not a good situation, the Democrats own this and unfortunately now it looks they might be reeling in some Republicans too. If these comments are any indication at all the majority of Americans do not want amnesty in any way, shape or form. The only way the Democrats especially are going to get the message is if the people that actually vote for these morons start telling them. All I ever hear from Democrats is how the Republicans are the problem, they are the reason immigration reform is not happening. I’m not a Republican and a lot of people I know are not Republicans, but most people I know have no interest in the Democrats so called immigration reform, but to listen to them you would think the entire Democratic voting bloc is completely behind them. It’s not hard, copy and paste your comments and send them to the people you are voting for and if they don’t listen send it again and keep sending them until it sinks into their thick skulls. No amnesty, no way, no how.

    April 25, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  21. Bob C.

    As a moderate, I like the new Boehner. He doesn't take crap from anybody, including people in his own party.

    I think you give them permanent residence, let them wait for 10-15 years (as opposed to the 3-5 years everybody else waits), then allow them to become citizens. I'd like to keep them permanent residents forever, but then they wouldn't be able to ever leave the U.S. (ironically) since they wouldn't have a passport.

    April 25, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  22. Paul

    The answer is real simple... If your here illegally get out, don't want to leave not a problem handcuffs and a bus problem solved.

    April 25, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  23. nytww

    Boehner is a hard left RINO. Hopefully the people of Ohio will realize this soon and replace with a Real Conservative.

    April 25, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  24. davidfarrar

    It is, in fact, Boehner, Cantor, JEB, too, for that matter, who are trying to take the 'easy path' to governance. All are dues-paying members of the corporate-dominated wing of the Republican Party, pejoratively referred to as RINOs. This corporate class extends far into the list of Democrats in Congress as well, although Democratic party leaders are loath to admit it. With the exception of Reagan and Truman, the same can be said of all those who have taken the oath of office of the President.

    Since this corporate class can operate effectively when either party is in political power, it is their political agenda that has become this country's true sovereign. Amnesty for illegal aliens is only the latest and best example, although vast government spending can easily be thrown into the mix.

    ex animo

    April 25, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  25. Rudy NYC

    The King

    I'm left of center, and in the final analysis, I stand for the working class. But, why are we even considering letting these illegals stay? They undermine our workforce, undercut organized labor, and take jobs that we need for legitimate citizens. I say, round them up, to include their anchor babies, and ship them the hell out of here.
    Tough talk. Now. How exactly do you go about doing that without looking like the Gestapo? Do we put them through a formal court process, or not? How much will it cost? What do you do with the people once your "round them up?"

    Your idea would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, if not several trillions. Consider the average annual cost of a prison inmate. It's in the tens of thousands of dollars per year. Some figures run as high $60,000 per year. Now multiply that times 10 million people, and you get 600,000 million, which works out to $600 billion dollars. That's the cost for just one year in a prison. Never mind the court costs, and the costs to "round them up", as you put it.

    Next problem. Where do you send them? Please don't say dump them all in Mexico. Many of the illegals from Central and South America come from remote areas, which means they have no birth records filed with the government. A person could be from a given country, and the country can honestly tell you that they have no record of such a person. Now what?

    April 25, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
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