WASHINGTON House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday reassured fellow Republican lawmakers that he will not push them to pass immigration reform and said he was just teasing last week when he criticized his caucus's reluctance on the issue.
Boehner held a closed-door meeting with Republican House members to cool their anger over remarks he made last Thursday at a Rotary Club luncheon in his Ohio district.
In that widely reported speech, Boehner described the attitude of other House Republicans as: "Don't make me do this."
After Tuesday's meeting in Washington to address the issue, Boehner told reporters: "You all know me. You tease the ones you love, but some people misunderstood what I have to say and some members misunderstood."
Some congressional aides and immigration reform advocates viewed Boehner's comments last week 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.
"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.
Some Republicans have suggested the possibility of legalizing some undocumented residents instead of establishing a specific pathway to citizenship.
Several members, including Boehner, said after the 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.
His comments last week created tensions 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)