Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 8, 2016

Boehner Wants to Go Big, but Will His Rank and File Follow?

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

CAMBRIDGE, Md. – Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and his lieutenants came to the GOP retreat looking to convince the conference to go big and back an immigration overhaul, a real health care alternative and more. They left with mixed results.

For three years, Republicans have struggled to coalesce around an alternative to Obamacare. This year, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia vowed his party would finally vote on its own health care plan — something easy to say and harder to do. And Boehner tried to unite the restive conference around a controversial rewrite of the nation’s immigration policy, something that could actually become law.

Of course, it’s no secret that the GOP hasn’t been able to unify on much other than opposition to the president — something President Barack Obama alluded to in a sit-down interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday and in his State of the Union address, when he challenged Republicans to bring forward their own ideas.

“In order to maximize our year, it’s important that we show the American people we’re not just the opposition party, we’re actually the alternative party,” Boehner told reporters Thursday morning.

Cantor and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon both served up variations of the Boehner line to the press.

The GOP push for the year is twofold: show they can govern on the major issues of the day while tamping down on GOP infighting and present a unified face to win control of the Senate.

“We know we’re inextricably bound to them,” Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said of the Senate. “We certainly don’t want to do things that make it harder for them.”

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California began the Thursday retreat meetings by presenting a breakdown of House Republican voting patterns by committee, class and geographic region, an attempt to show that dissent of the past years has not been exclusive to the younger, more tea-party-infused classes of 2010 and 2012.

Republicans generally coalesced around the idea of presenting their own health care bill, so it is now leadership’s task to consolidate the ideas and decide whether to move forward with one or several bills.

“I think it’s real important we spell out we have an alternative to this terrible thing called Obamacare,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.  “As the only part of the federal government that’s currently in Republican hands, I think it’s important we lay out a vision for how we think the country can go.”

But the conference remains bitterly split on an immigration overhaul. Those divisions manifested Thursday, when Republicans held an open debate on principles handed down by Boehner.

Republicans lined up behind three microphones to deliver their thoughts on immigration in one-minute bursts: one microphone for those who support an overhaul, another for those who support the effort but think it’s the wrong time to act, and the third for Republicans who just outright oppose a policy rewrite.

The three-microphone setup may have established the GOP middle ground on the issue as pro-overhaul, but anti-action this year — a dilemma some members said may prevent leadership from pushing ahead.

“The majority of us are for immigration reform,” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho said Thursday night after the immigration discussion. “But they understand: not with this president and not with this Senate.”

Boehner and his team believe Republicans would be served well by an overhaul, but as he is wont to say, a leader without a flock is just a man out for a walk. So the speaker told members that the discussion is ongoing and no decisions have been made on any step of an immigration rewrite.

Members repeatedly voiced concerns that Obama could not be trusted to apply tighter border enforcement laws. “The challenge is can we deal with that, can we deal with forcing an administration that nobody trusts to deal with the things that we think need to be dealt with?” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, a proponent of acting this year.

A number of members also voiced concern that Republicans would open themselves up to political attacks from both Democrats and Republican opponents by acting in 2014.

And they are divided over the political risks of an immigration overhaul not just in the short term — Walden told reporters that a proposed policy rewrite would come after the majority of GOP primaries had already taken place — but over the long haul as well.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota asked her colleagues on Thursday if Republicans thought Democrats would support an immigration overhaul if 80 percent of those immigrants who would be “granted amnesty” would vote Republican.  She said an immigration overhaul in this fashion would create a “permanent Democrat majority bloc.”

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Bachmann said multiple members told the conference behind closed doors that an immigration overhaul was “a suicide mission.”

One of those members, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, said he thought leadership would cool its efforts to push an immigration rewrite this year.

“My sense is that the consensus here is that we should not move forward and that leaders will abide by that,” Fleming told CQ Roll Call. “On a political basis, this is a suicide mission for Republicans. Why would we want to change the topic for a very toxic problem Democrats have with Obamacare?”

Fleming said Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Science Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas, and Budget Vice Chairman Tom Price of Georgia — all of whom are influential in conservative circles — spoke in front of the conference to say an overhaul should not move forward this year.

In the near term, Republicans will have to tackle a hike to the debt ceiling. The retreat ended without a resolution on how leaders can sell the vote to their members.

  • peanut

    This doesn’t come as a surprise that my Republican Party doesn’t care about the American people and families. Only their party and making the other party look bad. Don’t pass any jobs programs, immigration reform, budget. After all that would make the Obama administration look good. Why don’t you start to think about the American people instead. Maybe you won’t go out being the worst Congress ever.

    • wttexas

      Recycle Congress!!!
      a career politician puts themselves first,,,when people wake up to that,,we can begin to have a decent government….

      • peanut

        That will happen and it will be anyone that hasn’t worked to get people back to work and stimulate our economy. It won’t matter what party they are from after all it’s about taking care of Americans and not just big corporations. We can encourage a lot of our manufacturing back into this Country by cutting the advantage to them having their bussiness in other Countries and give them advantages for being here.

    • wrigney

      Your making too much sense…….are you a conservative?

  • DrGeneNelson

    I believe that House Speaker Boehner is following directions from his special-interest paymasters – and failing to protect the American middle class in the process. Instead, I hope that the Republican members of the House follow the guidance of Sen. Jeff Sessions and reject anything like S. 744 and H.R. 15.

    • wrigney

      Are you making a point? Or part time conspiracy theorist?

      • DrGeneNelson

        Ah, the familiar ad hominem attack.

  • Charles Wolf

    So Boneher is going to do some ‘work’?
    Who will keep his barstool warm?

  • Attila

    More kabuki dance to placate the country-clubbers who want cheap gardners, groundskeepers and maids.
    The conservative base of the Republican Party will never support amnesty unless our borders our sealed once and for all against illegal drug and human trafficking.
    The Democratic Party will never allow our borders to be sealed against illegal drug and human trafficking. Democrats embrace drugs, drug gangs, illegal immigration and the violent cartels that run the smuggling.

    • wrigney

      Could you repeat that?

  • Charles Wolf

    Your headline:
    Boehner Wants to Go Big,…”
    That image:
    I hope it doesn’t ruin my evening.

  • Tank_Commander

    If Boehner and his friends would close some of the over 900 military bases we have overseas, stop purchasing M1 tanks the Army said it didn’t want, keep seven ships in commission the Navy said they didn’t need, they would have some money for ENFORCEMENT OF CURRENT LAWS! For a “jobs” bill, they could pass a clean one that simply makes e-verify mandatory for all employers with serious fines and jail for offenders. They could also cut all federal funding and grants for “sanctuary cities’.” That would leave only legal American citizens here to work. Everybody would win. Why not, GOP?

    • peanut

      I agree with the first part of what you said. The military should not have large purchases that they don’t need forced down their throats. especially when they don’t need the items.
      As to your jobs bill surely you are kidding. If Americans would do all the jobs that are being done by those without legal documentation it wouldn’t help our economy or Americans. Our congress has to stop the incentives for companies to be doing business overseas and give them incentives to bring those jobs back. After all that’s where our jobs went to begin with. Not to illegals that have been doing the same jobs for decades.

  • LeavingMyRepublicanParty

    Republican voters need an alternative to John Boehner. Do they really think we care about a pipeline for a Canadian Company? That we want immigration reform over help for our own children and their future? That Obamacare will bring us to the polls and make us forget about their looting veterans pensions and spending more money on BS?

    A 3rd party protest vote is the only way to send a message to the chickenhawks who got us in this mess. They voted for 2 wars, didn’t pay for them, and now decide foreign labor is the answer to our prayers.

    • peanut

      I not only don’t want the Canadian pipeline that can contaminate pristine American land. But I don’t want the fracking that is being done to get gas from the land. It is so hazardous to our limited drinking water I just don’t understand how it can be allowed.
      As to voting for a 3rd party how will that help if that party member is for all the things we are against. In my opinion we will have to do our homework and see what each member is for and what they are against. If someone has been good for America then I want them to stay. Although I believe they may be few and far between.

  • sebastianjer

    Perhaps it would be best to start out as being the opposition party, then maybe GOP could work its way to being the alternative party.

  • Layla

    The Butcher of Benghazi in 2016? SURELY you jest!

    • wrigney

      Define “jest”?

  • Layla

    Interesting comments here, and utterly amazing that neither side see anything wrong in what they have done to American families. We’ve got well over 50 million Americans out of the jobs market…..sure, amnesty makes GREAT sense.. For WHOM? The Ceos in the US Chamber and that’s about all.

    NOT ONE American trusts either side to enforce our immigration laws. It’s time to put troops on those borders and shut them down.

    As for the other side, you’ve STUCK families with the biggest financial burden since the economy collapsed, OBAMACARE. You don’t care how many lose their insurance, what it costs as long as your agenda is complete.

    It’s going to be an interesting election season. I wouldn’t expect to see many familiar faces up there, come November, if I were you. Americans are going to continue doing what they started at the midterms in 2010, sending you home in record numbers.


  • left wing

    the dems like boehner that pose as pubs as they attempt to kill the gop and the nation.

  • govskeptic

    If you don’t have the ability to articulate a sound position to the American
    people in front of a TV camera or even in print you can’t expect to get their
    backing. Why don’t the Republicans put a face and voice on their leadership
    that can lead in public versus just a caucus meeting. Boehner is only good
    for a maximum of about 4 lines or sentences.

    • Guest

      republicans have no leadership, nor any ideas. That’s why Boehner caved in to the teapublicans and allowed the government to be shut down. Even HE was sharp enough to realize that it wasn’t going to fly and that the country would hold the republicans responsible, but he went ahead with it anyway because the republican party is a big-tent with nothing but CLOWNS under it.

      • govskeptic

        Sounds like the remarks of a high school freshman. Don’t
        believe ever word on politics you hear your father utter.

        • Guest

          don’t bring my father into it, he’s been dead for 36 years.

          advice for you: wake up, grow up, get a job, and move out of your parent’s basement, you tool . . .

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