President Obama said he was surprised by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s criticism of his handling of immigration reform, even though it’s clear both men don’t see eye to eye on the issue.
Obama spoke with Cantor over the phone on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the introduction of a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate. That measure passed last June, but Republicans who control the House have failed to vote on counterpart legislation. The president and other Democrats issued statements that hit Republicans for stalling on the issue, and Cantor responded in a statement of his own, chiding Obama for not having “learned how to effectively worked with Congress to get things done.”
Obama offered a rosier description of the call, saying he wished Cantor a Happy Passover and discussed the bipartisan support around immigration reform.
“I actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor yesterday, I did,” Obama said during a press conference on Thursday. “You know, you’re always kind of surprised by the mismatch between press releases and the conversation.”
The president touted the benefits of the Senate-passed bill, which would bolster border-security measures while offering a chance for millions of undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship. House Republican leaders have balked at that proposal, favoring a step-by-step approach.
But none of the five smaller immigration-related bills that have passed committees have received a vote on the House floor, amid sharp divisions among Republicans over the issue.
Obama acknowledged the issue is tough for the GOP because “there are some in their base who are very opposed to this.” But he ultimately blamed the party’s leaders for failing to act.
"Right now what's holding us back on immigration is House Republican leadership not willing to go ahead and let the process move forward,” Obama said Thursday.
The president gave few hints about whether his administration would take unilateral action to slow the pace of deportations, something he’s been under pressure from immigrant-rights groups to address.
“We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could,” he said. “We’re going to review it one more time to see if there is more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with — I think — the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn't be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law abiding.”
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.