Obama Calls Cantor After Day of Immigration Sparring

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:50pm

Updated 6:05 p.m.  | President Barack Obama called House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Wednesday to implore House Republicans to hold a vote on the Senate-passed  immigration overhaul, prompting Cantor to say the president hasn’t learned how to work with Congress.  

The Virginia Republican’s retort came in the form of a statement on a day of nasty back and forth between the president, Democrats and House GOP leadership over immigration legislation.  

“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,” Cantor said in his Wednesday statement. “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.  

“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. I also reiterated to the President there are other issues where we can find common ground, build trust and get America working again. 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.”  

The White House did not issue a readout of the call with Cantor, which the president must have made while on the road with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.  

Obama and other Democrats spent the day marking the one-year anniversary of the introduction of an immigration overhaul in the Senate by slamming House Republicans for failing to take up the issue — and GOP leaders fired right back.  

The president began the day by calling for a floor vote in the House on the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill .  

“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,” Obama said in a statement. “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.'” The statement went on to “urge House Republicans to listen to the will of the American people and bring immigration reform to the House floor for a vote.”  

But in statements to CQ Roll Call, the offices for both Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Cantor said it was the president’s fault the House hadn’t acted — and they seemed to indicate, in perhaps the strongest language to date, that House Republicans have no intention of acting on immigration this year.  

“The speaker has made clear many times that common-sense, step-by-step immigration reform is an important priority,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner. “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.”  

Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Cantor, had a similar message.  

“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.”  

House leaders always said the Senate bill was dead-on-arrival in the House, and Boehner said he had no intention of conferencing any House immigration legislation with the Senate-passed bill. But House leaders were aiming to get some component of an immigration overhaul through Congress this year — that is, until Republicans pushed back on the idea .  

Democrats issued similar statements throughout the day.  

Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, the four Democratic members of the Senate “gang of 8” that wrote the immigration measure, also urged the House Republicans to act.  

“The success of the Gang of 8 proved that compromise, cooperation, and bipartisanship are not only possible, but also necessary to get the job done,” the senators said in a statement. “We’re forever proud and grateful to have been part of the cohort that hammered out a strong bipartisan immigration reform effort in the Senate. Despite being so close to permanently fixing our broken system once and for all, the path forward continues to be inexcusably stalled in the House of Representatives. It is our sincere hope that House Republicans move away from extremes so that commonsense immigration reform can be finally pushed over the finish line.”  

With House Republicans seemingly content to do nothing on immigration until the next election, and Obama signaling that House inaction makes it more likely, not less, that he will issue executive orders to deal with issues including immigration, Republicans and the president appear at loggerheads on the immigration — and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.