By Justin Sink
President Obama warned that failure to act on comprehensive immigration reform would “haunt” members of Congress, and accused Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of being unwilling to “spend the political capital” necessary to move legislation through the House.
“I think it is very important for Congress to recognize that this is going to be an issue that haunts them until it gets solved,” Obama said.
“What we need is some political courage and political will, and that's always — you know, on many of these issues — what's been in shorter supply in Washington,” he continued. “And I'm hoping that once we get through some of the Republican primary season, maybe, you know, as we are still far enough away from November, that people see a chance to do the right thing.”
The interview with the president was taped Wednesday, the same day that he spoke with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on the topic — and provoked a furious statement from the top Republican.
Following the call, Cantor blasted Obama for having previously issued a “partisan statement” critical of Republicans on the issue, and accused Obama of having “no desire to work together” on immigration.
“After five years, President Obama still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress to get things done,” Cantor said in the statement. “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.”
The White House said that Obama had called Cantor to wish him a happy Passover, and that the topic came up. An administration official said they were “surprised” by the tone of Cantor’s statement, and that it did not reflect the call.
Obama has looked to refocus attention on House Republicans as he himself has come under new pressure to act unilaterally on immigration reform.
Last month, Janet Murguía, the head of the National Council of La Raza, made waves by labeling President Obama the "deporter in chief."
The criticism was seen as particularly stinging because the group has been among the president's strongest supporters, and because White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz was a former NCLR vice president.
Asked about the comments Wednesday, Obama said he did not need to hear the criticism “for me to be troubled when I see these families being separated.”
“I've expressed to many of these folks [that] I understand why there's a lotta hurt there,” he said. “That's exactly why it's so important for us to be able to get comprehensive immigration reform done. We have a window in this legislative session. I think that the Speaker, John Boehner, is sincere about wanting to get it done. But so far, at least, he has not been willing to spend the political capital to move his caucus to allow a vote in the House.”
Obama also insisted there was “a limit to what I can do in the absence of action by Congress.”