Boehner defector Rep. Labrador won’t talk about his vote for Speaker

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is refusing to discuss why he didn’t vote for John Boehner for Speaker and believes his silence will help mend fences with the Ohio Republican.

Labrador, who is hoping to work with House Republican leaders on immigration reform, raised a few eyebrows when he abstained from voting on Jan. 3.

The second-term lawmaker told The Hill he’s “not talking to the press” on his rationale behind not voting. He was among 12 House Republicans who didn’t back Boehner.

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But he said he’d been in touch with some House leadership officials since then about immigration reform, praised them for their views on the issue, and said he wants to work closely with them to pass legislation.

The Tea Party favorite, who also refused to comment when The Hill asked him right after the early January vote, said he hopes his pointed refusal to discuss the Speaker votes would help him smooth things over with GOP leaders.

“John Boehner is my Speaker at this point and I want him to be successful,” he said. “One of the reasons I did what I did is I want my party to be successful, strong and do what we were elected to do. This is absolutely one issue where we'll work together.”

“I hope so,” he said when he asked if he thought the vote would be water under the bridge for both him and leadership.  “I haven't talked to the press about my vote for Speaker and because of that. I think there's some respect for that… I truly won't know until the end of the week, but I don't think it has and I don't think it will as long as I deal with this in an appropriate fashion.”

The House Republican Conference will meet in rural Virginia for a retreat later this week. Boehner has already promised in meetings with the GOP conference that there would be no retribution for the defections on the Speaker vote. Late last year, however, the Boehner-led Republican Steering Committee ousted four GOP lawmakers from prized committees.

Labrador's handling of the vote stands in sharp contrast to others involved in the anti-Boehner coup attempt. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) has repeatedly accused House leaders of intimidating members into voting for them and warning of likely retribution, while Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who explains all of his votes on Facebook, wrote on his wall that he was “proud” to back Labrador for Speaker over Boehner.

Labrador, a former immigration lawyer who grew up in Puerto Rico, said he could be an asset to party leaders working to reach out to other conservative lawmakers and Tea Party groups to help win them over on the divisive issue.

“One of the reasons that I think I will be successful in pushing a conservative agenda on immigration reform is I have the credibility with the conservative movement,” he said. “They're going to be more likely to listen to me on an issue that's difficult than they would someone from the establishment… That's going to be one of my jobs where I’m most influential: Going to those groups and showing them why this is a conservative issue.”

His immigration policy views align closely with some other pro-reform Tea Party Republicans, notably Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has pushed the effort in the Senate. They both want to see immigration reform dealt with sequentially in a series of four to six smaller bills, which Labrador referred to as a “comprehensive approach” rather than one comprehensive piece of legislation that Democrats prefer.

While Labrador opposes giving a faster pathway to citizenship for the 12 million or so undocumented immigrants in the U.S. he believes in giving them permanent legal status in the U.S. and allowing them to apply for citizenship through the process that’s already in place.

He was careful not to criticize any lawmaker by name, but took a shot at centrist Republicans for using immigration to prove their conservative bona fides.

“Politically some of the more moderate members use immigration as the only issue they can be conservative on and I just think that's not good policy,” he said. “I went through this in my primary and general [election] in Idaho. Some groups were accusing me of not being conservative enough, and I asked them if they believed being conservative is wanting to reform government and make it accountable, and fix a government that isn't working, and when I explained it that way, argued for more efficient, accountable, and transparent government a lot of them came around.”

At different points during The Hill’s interview, he praised Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for being “strong proponents” of immigration reform. 

On Monday, Ryan backed Rubio’s immigration reform plan. Both legislators are considered frontrunners for the 2016 GOP nomination.

Labrador said he has been regularly meeting with Republicans in both chambers as well as some House Democrats, and while the exact timing of legislation and which chamber would act first have “yet to be resolved,” he wants to see quick movement.

“I don't know when we'll come up with our bill but it has to be this year — introduced, debated and passed this year," he said. "2014 will be too late.”

He also praised Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), a longtime Democratic leader on immigration reform. But he criticized President Obama, accusing him of being more interested in scoring political points than finding solutions to the nation’s immigration problems.

“My experience with Luis is it's going to be easy to work with him. There are a couple things that are a must in his package, but everything else he's willing to work with us,” he said.

“The question is whether the White House wants a political or a policy victory. If they want a political victory there will be no negotiation, and we won't be able to come to any kind of agreement. But if it's what Luis wants, a policy victory, I think we'll be able to find a package that conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats can vote on.”

This article was updated at 8:30 a.m.