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Boehner tries to quell Republican anger over immigration remarks

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) calls on a reporter during a news conference after a Republican House caucus meeting on Capitol Hill
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) calls on a reporter during a news conference after a Republican House caucus meeting on Capitol Hill

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker John Boehner tried to ease tensions with fellow Republican lawmakers on Tuesday after chiding them last week for their reluctance to pass an immigration reform bill.

"You tease the ones you love, but some people misunderstood what I had to say and some members misunderstood," Boehner said after a closed-door meeting with Republican House members.

He was referring to comments he made at a Rotary Club luncheon in his Ohio district last Thursday, in which he described the attitude of other House Republicans on immigration reform as: "Don't make me do this."

Some congressional aides and immigration reform advocates viewed those remarks as a possible signal of a renewed drive to pass an immigration bill in the House. But Republican House members emerging from Tuesday's meeting said the speaker played down that prospect during the closed-door Republican meeting.

"He actually came out and made some really very strong statements that go against what his comments suggested. Just to reiterate: Number one, we're not going to conference on a Senate immigration bill," Representative John Fleming said.

Boehner has long talked of his interest in getting an immigration bill through Congress to address concerns such as border security. The Senate last year passed a sweeping measure that included a path to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants. But some House conservatives oppose that measure, which they view as amnesty for lawbreakers.

Boehner has repeatedly dismissed the idea of passing the Senate version of the immigration bill in the House but has said that his chamber could consider a measure of its own.

Some House Republicans have suggested the possibility of legalizing some undocumented residents instead of establishing a specific pathway to citizenship.

Several members, including Boehner, said after Tuesday's meeting that any chance of House action on immigration would be nullified if the Obama administration goes forward with a plan it has hinted would lighten the enforcement of existing immigration law without congressional approval.

Boehner's comments last week stirred frictions with some House Republicans.

"His remarks were inappropriate. We were offended. Absolutely," said Representative Paul Gosar after the party's meeting with Boehner.

A review ordered by President Barack Obama on deportation enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security is due out in the next few weeks. The report is likely to recommend steps to ensure that some immigrants who are in the country illegally but have not committed serious crimes should be allowed to remain in the United States, according to several sources familiar with the review.

Republicans in both the House and the Senate have warned against any potential move by the administration to change current deportation policies, saying any such changes should be made through legislation.

Boehner on Tuesday said the "biggest impediment" in the House moving forward with immigration reform is their mistrust in the president to enforce existing laws.

But he also could face opposition from many of his 233 Republicans, who do not want to get dragged into a contentious immigration debate before the November congressional elections.

(Reporting By Julia Edwards; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by David Gregorio)

(This story corrects and recasts to make clear that Boehner was referring to the Senate immigration bill when he said he would not push Republican House members on immigration reform.)

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