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Posted at 4:46 p.m. on May 1, 2014
The dissension among Republicans over immigration that flared anew this week, sparking talk of an open revolt against Speaker John A. Boehner, gave Democrats a rhetorical opening that Nancy Pelosi and others were more than happy to fill Thursday.
Speaking to reporters at her weekly news conference, the House minority leader said she believes Boehner supports action on immigration, but is hamstrung by hard-liners in the GOP.
“He ran it up the flagpole. We saluted, his caucus cut the flagpole down,” she said.
Pelosi suggested the speaker follow the precedent set earlier this year on the debt-ceiling vote, when the Ohio Republican allowed a vote on a bill that lacked the support of most of the GOP caucus.
“If you can bring a bill to the floor where 199 of your members are voting in opposition to your own vote as speaker, you can bring an immigration bill to the floor,” the California Democrat said.
Pelosi’s comments came after House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer also took a shot at Boehner, who is under fire from members of his own conference who didn’t appreciate the speaker’s mocking remarks last week at a Rotary Club luncheon.
“Mr. Boehner indicated that that was not being done because it was tough and people didn’t want to do tough things. I understand that. It’s hard to do tough things. That’s why they’re called tough,” Hoyer said.
Boehner isn’t just taking punches from the Democrats: He’s also feeling heat from Republicans who are still fuming over the Rotary Club remarks, despite his clear-the-air meeting Tuesday.
A group of 10 or so House conservatives met in secret in Sen. Ted Cruz’s office on Tuesday night to discuss immigration and other issues, including whether there should be changes in House leadership if the GOP, as expected, retains control of the chamber after the November elections.
And then on Wednesday, another 10 conservatives or so had another meeting — this one exclusively about immigration.
Alabama Republican Mo Brooks, who told CQ Roll Call he was the only person to attend both meetings, said conservatives are worried Boehner may push an immigration rewrite.
“More and more House members are coming to the realization that if the House leadership does, in fact, push amnesty, we’re going to have to go to extraordinary measures in order to protect American families from lost jobs and declining incomes,” Brooks said.
And asked if he thought there would be a revolt if Boehner put an immigration plan on the floor, Brooks was cagey.
“That depends on what you mean by the word ‘revolt,'” he said. “There would certainly be a lot of congressman that believe American citizens should take priority over illegal aliens, and I’m one of them.”
But Boehner has repeatedly insisted he has no intention of going against the will of his conference. And the will of his conference — the majority of it, anyway — is to not address immigration.
That doesn’t mean the GOP is without immigration proposals.
Texas Republican Joe L. Barton appeared on a state political talk show over the weekend to announce that he planned to introduce an immigration bill that would include a path to legalization — though not citizenship — for adults who came to the United States illegally but have not committed any other crime.
“My bill’s not quite ready to go yet,” Barton told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday, “but we’re going to have it ready pretty quick.”
Asked if he thought his bill would get floor time, Barton said he wasn’t holding his breath.
“Look: I’m putting it out there just so there is a bill that people can look,” Barton said.
And he noted that this effort wasn’t “sanctioned” by GOP leadership.
“This is purely an individual initiative, and I’m trying to do what I think is the right public policy,” he said.
But conservatives simply don’t seem to think an immigration rewrite is the right public policy. And without them on board, Congress probably can’t get anything done.
Of course, that doesn’t mean an immigration overhaul is dead. As conservatives are quick to point out, President Barack Obama explicitly said in his State of the Union address, if Congress won’t act, he will.
“I think the president has pretty well proven that he has significant disrespect for the Constitution,” Iowa Republican Steve King said Thursday.
King, one of the most vocal critics of an immigration overhaul in Congress, said he was worried the president would act unilaterally on immigration.
And he said if the president didn’t respect Article I of the Constitution, outlining the legislative branch, he didn’t have much hope that the judicial branch, Article III, could stop the president.
“So I don’t know what Congress can do,” he said. “We can make noise, and we need to do that, but I don’t know how we change a president that has determined to release a couple hundred thousand felons on to the streets because he says that that’s not a danger to our society.”