Congressional GOP leaders urged President Obama to drop his plans to issue an executive amnesty at the White House, prompting an intense back-and-forth between the top leaders of both parties.
A senior GOP aide with knowledge of the meeting’s events said Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s message on the issue was “very forceful” — and that Obama seemed taken aback by it. The intense brushback spawned 30 minutes of Obama defending himself on the issue and was a dominant issue in the meeting, the source said.
A second GOP source described Boehner’s message as that not only would executive amnesty erase the possibility of immigration reform, but that it would also likely poison the well for other bipartisan accomplishment. Democrats in the meeting “did not react well” and the subject dominated the meeting after it was broached, the source said.
A Democratic congressional aide briefed on the meeting said Boehner’s rhetoric was similar to his public remarks and that Democrats dismissed it because of the Speaker’s “credibility problem.”
“There’s not much force behind the rhetoric because no one believes he can deliver anything on immigration reform. He has a credibility problem because he’s made so many promises on which he has failed to deliver, so no one on our side believes him when he says, ‘if you hold off on the executive action I will make progress on immigration reform,'” the source said.
“The Speaker warned that unilateral action by the president on executive amnesty will erase any chances of doing immigration reform and will also make it harder for Congress and the White House to work together successfully on other areas where there might otherwise be common ground,” the readout from the Speaker’s office said.
A White House readout of the meeting said Obama “reiterated his commitment to taking action on immigration reform in light of the House’s inability to pass a comprehensive bill.”
Incoming Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn said in a written statement after the meeting he urged Obama not to issue a unilateral amnesty.
“The American people sent a strong message Tuesday that they want Washington to work together, and I made clear to the President that we should tackle immigration reform together on a step-by-step basis, beginning with border security and respect for the rule of law,” Cornyn said. “Unfortunately the President’s promise to unilaterally go around Congress ignores the message voters sent on Election Day. It is my sincere hope that he will reverse course and work with us – not around us – to secure the border and achieve real reforms to our immigration system.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters following the meeting she argued that Obama has legal authority to issue an executive amnesty, citing small-scale executive actions by previous presidents on immigration.
The meeting lasted for approximately two hours. Participants included Boehner, McCarthy, House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, GOP Sens. John Cornyn, John Thune, and John Barasso, soon-to-be former Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Chuck Schumer, Pelosi, and Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer, and Xavier Becerra.
Read the Speaker’s office readout:
At the White House today, Speaker Boehner met with President Obama, Vice President Biden and the bicameral, bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate to discuss a range of topics, including the economy, immigration, and our efforts to degrade and destroy the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The Speaker made clear that the American people’s top priority remains jobs and the economy. He reminded the president that there are more than 40 House-passed jobs bills that represent a great place to start on immediate, bipartisan action to help create more private-sector jobs. He has previously said that building the Keystone pipeline, restoring the 40-hour work week, encouraging our businesses to hire more veterans, and supporting innovative charter schools are examples of the types of common-sense solutions that offer a good starting point in January.
The Speaker warned that unilateral action by the president on executive amnesty will erase any chances of doing immigration reform and will also make it harder for Congress and the White House to work together successfully on other areas where there might otherwise be common ground.
Lastly, the Speaker welcomed President Obama’s decision regarding a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the effort to defeat and destroy ISIL, but reminded him that historically the Commander-in-Chief has identified the need for the use of military force, written a new AUMF, sent it to Capitol Hill, and worked to build bipartisan support for its passage. The Speaker urged the president to do so in this case, and said that if he does, House Republicans will be ready to work with him to get it approved.