House Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that his chamber will try to make progress on “comprehensive” immigration reform — a nod to the growing power of Hispanics, but a move that could produce a bloody battle within his own party, depending on how far he pushes his troops.
“It’s an important issue that I think ought to be dealt with. This issue has been around far too long,” the Ohio Republican told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an interview. “While I believe it’s important for us to secure our borders and to enforce our laws, I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others, can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”
He used the term “comprehensive,” which for immigration-rights advocates has generally meant legalizing the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
Mr. Boehner, though, didn’t say exactly what approach he would take. Many Republicans say granting illegal immigrants any legal status amounts to amnesty.
In another interview with USA Today on Thursday, Mr. Boehner also mentioned immigration, saying that it’s “important that we find common ground with our colleagues and deal with this issue forthrightly.”
In singling out immigration for attention, Mr. Boehner joins President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who a day earlier called immigration “a very, very high priority” for his chamber. Mr. Reid vowed to hold votes on the issue.
Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said Thursday evening that any action will require that Mr. Obama step up.
“The speaker believes we must secure our borders, enforce our laws and reform our immigration system,” the spokesman said. “He also believes that has no chance of getting off the ground unless there is real leadership from the president.”
Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama in Tuesday’s election, and many in the GOP blamed a tough stance on illegal immigration as part of the reason.
But Kris W. Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and co-architect of some of the state immigration crackdown laws, said that is a misreading of the results.
He said polling earlier in the year showed that independent voters liked Mitt Romney’s stricter stance on the issue better than Mr. Obama’s stance, which called for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“In my opinion, had Romney taken a pro-amnesty position, he would have lost independent voters by a significant margin,” Mr. Kobach told The Washington Times on Wednesday. “Immigration was one of the few issues that was pulling independent voters to Romney.”
Tuesday’s elections saw Democrats expand their majority in the Senate, while Mr. Boehner and Republicans retained control of the House, though they saw their majority shrink.
Congress tried to pass broad immigration reforms in both 2006 and 2007, under President Bush. The 2006 bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate but never saw action in the Republican-controlled House.
A year later, Mr. Bush tried again with a Democratic-controlled Senate, but that bill collapsed because lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to handle future guest workers, among other sticking points.