Bush nudges GOP on immigration as lawmakers meet
Mario Melgar, 5, who was born in Prince Georges County, Md., joins his Guatemalan mother, not in picture, during a rally for citizenship on Capitol Hill in in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, coinciding with the GOP House Caucus meeting. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
DREAMers (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) and parents take an oath in a mock citizenship ceremony during a "United we Dream," rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, sending a signal to the House of Representatives GOP leadership as they go into their meeting that afternoon to discuss immigration reform with their caucus. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former President George W. Bush, right, posses for a photo with Mondell Bernadette Avril after she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen during a ceremony at the The George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. Twenty new citizens took the oath of U.S. citizenship at the former president's library. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and GOP leaders, pauses while meeting with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, following a Republican strategy session. House Republicans confronting the politically volatile issue of immigration are wrestling with what to do about those already here illegally, with most Republicans reluctant to endorse citizenship for 11 million unauthorized immigrants but also shying away from suggestions of deportation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Divided on immigration, House Republicans bluntly challenged President Obama’s willingness to secure the nation’s borders yesterday and appeared unimpressed by former president George W. Bush’s advice to carry a “benevolent spirit” into a debate that includes a possible path to citizenship for millions.
Emerging from a closed-door meeting, GOP leaders affirmed a step-by-step approach to immigration but offered neither specifics nor a timetable – nor any mention of possible citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country unlawfully.
Instead, in a written statement noting that the White House recently delayed a key part of the health care law, Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and other leaders said the action raised concerns that the administration “cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”
Lawmakers streaming out of the two-hour meeting said Bush’s long-distance advice had not come up in a discussion that focused instead on the importance of securing the nation’s borders and a general distrust of Obama.
The former president’s ability to sway a new generation of House conservatives was a matter of considerable doubt, especially because many of the Tea Party-backed lawmakers have risen to power since he left the White House and are strongly on record in opposition to any citizenship provision.
“We care what people back home say, not what some former president says,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a second-term Kansas Republican who has clashed with the party leadership in the House.
Still, the timing and substance of Bush’s remarks were reminders of the imperative that many national party leaders feel Republicans must broaden their appeal among Hispanic voters to compete successfully in future presidential elections. President Obama took more than 70 percent of their votes in winning a second term last fall.
“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” Bush said at a naturalization ceremony at his presidential library in Dallas.
For their part, Democrats quickly embraced the former president’s message, challenging Boehner to proceed in the same spirit.
The meeting in the Capitol was their first such meeting since the Senate approved sweeping legislation last month on a bipartisan vote of 68-32.