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. Joe Murphy

    E-Verify is the only immigration reform Americans want.

    Help make it happen at numbersusa.com

    April 25, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  2. Dave Golden

    Immigration reform is easy – pass E-Verify and the problem is solved.

    April 25, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  3. jdalco

    I will give him one thing this should be an easy issue. If you came here illegally we need to find and deport you. DONE. There should be very heavy fines for anyone giving them housing, jobs or any kind of support short of a visit to the ER. Make it so they can't live here and they will go home on their own.

    April 25, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  4. kws11

    It's not "hard"; it's WRONG. Illegal immigrants are the only group of acknowledged criminals we've allowed to form a political special interest group. It's the only group of criminals that can carry signs and walk in the streets demanding to be forgiven and to be given more free stuff, and we send out the news cameras instead of the paddy wagons. It's the only group of criminals where we seriously consider not imposing the the consequences because of the anguish it would cause the family. These people have knowingly broken the law. Substitute "burglar" or "crack dealer" for "illegal immigrant" and imagine the outrage if law enforcement acted accordingly. You don't think those folks do what they do "to have a better life"? What the hell is the matter with us!!??

    April 25, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  5. bobo

    Keep illegals out! Secure the boarders! Then you can work on the illegals that are already here....

    April 25, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  6. JMcD

    Only thing broken with the immigration system is the enforcement piece.

    April 25, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  7. RT

    It's very frustrating on both sides...Democrats and Republicans...all the same. Nobody wants to make any decisions because they are afraid it may hurt their chance for re-election. These politicians are more interested in furthering their personal interests more so then the interests of the country...whatever the issues might be. This Congress has been terrible...and the every 2 year elections makes it a nightmare because someone is ALWAYS looking out for their reelection chances. Whatever happened to listening to the people who they represent in their districts and vote that way...no matter what party.

    April 25, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  8. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    It amazes me that a group of people whose ancestors basically jacked this country from the Natives have the unmitigated gall to stop those they don't want from coming here. If only the Natives had done the same.....

    April 25, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  9. George

    I don't blame Boehner. The Democrats got thrown out on their ears for doing something and doing nothing is what has kept the GOP in charge of the House, so it's clear that they are looking out for their careers, not us. The Speaker may not be my political friend, but he is right to call out the majority for glossing over such a large issue. They'd much rather campaign on it and then forget about it when they are elected.

    April 25, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  10. kws11

    John Boehner is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the federal government, and I don't mean anything related to "action hero"; I'm thinking more in the wimp-out girly man politician vein. Illegal aliens are a group of line-crashing cheaters, pure and simple. If getting caught and punished is a horror for their families, that's on THEM, just as it is with burglars, embezzlers and other people who break laws "to get a better life". We can't round 'em up and deport them, clearly, but we can deport them when we find them (say, when they're rallying in the streets with signs and banners), and we can stop looking for ways to entice and reward them. Line-crashers and cheats are not my idea of ideal Americans; if we seal the boarders, fully enforce e-verify and send them to the BACK OF THE LINE to follow all standard requirements and processes, I could see supporting a "reform" program. Nothing else should even be considered.

    April 25, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  11. Sama Mondeh

    Self-deportation was tried as a campaign tool in the last presidential election. It failed. Let us try other commonsensical approaches to see what works.

    April 25, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  12. Michael

    @JDalco – Go back far enough and a VAST majority of our ancestors came here "illegally". My paternal great-grandparents arrived from Germany in the 1880's ... without an invitation. Naturalization quickly followed. On my Mom's side, part of the family tree have been "in country" for centuries (American Indians). So unless you're ready to go back to where your ancestors came from, lighten up. If people want to come to this country for a better life, come up with a process and stick with it.

    April 25, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  13. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Independent to Avoid Ignorance

    A lot of Republican bashing........Let's not forget that Obama had the House and Senate and could pass whatever he wanted for his 1st 2 years!!! and all we got was the lousy ACA.....
    Conservatives love telling that "two year majority" lie. The filibuster proof Senate lasted all of about two months. It began in June 2009 when that comedian guy in Minnesota finally won his court battle against his Republican Senate challenger and was finally sworn in. The majority ended in August 2009 when Ted Kennedy passed away.
    Not quite. As you've been reminded countless times now, Kennedy's seat was filled on an interim basis by Paul Kirk from Kennedy's death until Brown's seating in March, 2010. So once again, Rudy, you push it out as less than 3 months when it was actually over 9 months.

    April 25, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  14. Andrew

    Can we please just agree to vote out anybody that says they can't work on getting something done because it's an election year, either in primaries for both parties or general elections? I'd really hope that being lazy and scared to do your job would be more of a detriment to getting re-elected than trying to seriously confront those issues head on. Having a Congress that is only willing to even think about working on some issues every other year is just sad.

    April 25, 2014 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  15. Nodack

    Some Americans didn't like paying taxes and decided to start their own country where they didn't have to pay taxes. They called themselves Texans. They moved into Mexico and set up shop. The Mexicans didn't mind them invading their country, but insisted that the Texans pay taxes like everybody else n Mexico. The Texans refused and said we are Texans and we don't pay taxes to anyone. The Mexicans sent their military to enforce their laws from these invading Texans who refused to follow Mexican laws. The Texans who abandoned the US now asked the US to help defend them from those mean Mexicans. The US said sorry Texans, you abandoned the US and now want us to shed blood protecting you? The US left the Texans to fend for themselves. The Mexican army gave the Texans one last chance to comply, but the Texans defiantly refused and made their stand at the Alamo. The Texans fought valiantly, but in the end were destroyed. The US seeing their previous fellow countrymen killed decided to then take action and sent their military after the Mexican military. They cornered Santa Anna and gave him the choice of surrendering what would be later called Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California over to the US of face death. Santa Anna decided he wanted to live and surrendered all that land over to the US.

    Now we sit in the US trying to stop Mexicans from invading Texas, New Mexico, AZ and California and not paying taxes. Kind of funny if you think about it.

    April 25, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  16. bp

    Boehner fully realizes that it's far easier for fanatics and haters to resist doing anything than take responsibility for moving forward. Better to whine and complain and not deal with the issue.

    April 25, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  17. gmclenith

    The House has passed only one real piece of legislation this past year, and that was inspired by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. They certainly had plenty of time to discuss real issues, especially if they didn't repeatedly try passing a bill that definitely wouldn't make it, i.e. killing the Affordable Care Act. They are employees of the American citizens. They deserve an F and in any business would have long ago been out the door. Just in salaries alone, they cost the taxpayers over $75 million annually, and then there's all the perks they also get. And, what do we have to show for our gigantic investment. ZERO. We should recall their salaries, as a starter.

    April 25, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  18. langor1

    What good is reform if, like now, the government can't be trusted to enforce the laws they create? I can't break the laws of this country with impunity and expect to remain free, why should aliens have it easier?

    April 25, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    "Old Gunderson no understand?"

    Indeed he does not.

    April 25, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  20. Tampa Tim

    Fair – You need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, not 59. Lieberman was actually the 41st obstruct or in the senate.

    April 25, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  21. AngelicaS

    The ONLY reform that is needed is enforcement of U.S. immigration laws– the MOST GENEROUS IMMIGRATION LAWS IN THE WORLD. ILLEGAL FOREIGN NATIONALS must be deported tout de suite!

    April 25, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  22. Sniffit

    "Illegal immigrants are the only group of acknowledged criminals"

    It's NOT a crime. Go learn something and THEN open your mouth.

    April 25, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  23. jk sfl kick the koch stooges gop out in november

    the gop ,running on their 19th century agenda have no chance of any victory in November, and their anti healthcare bs wont help them.

    April 25, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  24. Rudy NYC

    "Conservatives love telling that "two year majority" lie. The filibuster proof Senate lasted all of about two months. It began in June 2009 when that comedian guy in Minnesota finally won his court battle against his Republican Senate challenger and was finally sworn in. The majority ended in August 2009 when Ted Kennedy passed away."

    Not quite. As you've been reminded countless times now, Kennedy's seat was filled on an interim basis by Paul Kirk from Kennedy's death until Brown's seating in March, 2010. So once again, Rudy, you push it out as less than 3 months when it was actually over 9 months.
    Why, thank-you, Fair. I'm sure you know that history better than most anyone here. Thank-you for correcting my debunking of the right wing's "two year, filibuster-proof majority" lie. Yet, you're still ignoring Lieberman, who voted with the Republican minority on most everything, especially tax cuts and spending cuts.

    April 25, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  25. Paulwisc

    gregor1971, what studies show this? News to me.

    April 25, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
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