Rep. John A. Boehner’s vote last month against a bill cracking down on illegal immigration is sending “tremors” through the House Republican Conference as the Ohio lawmaker pushes his candidacy for House majority leader.
Immigration votes reveal one of the key policy differences between Mr. Boehner and Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, in the race to succeed the former leader, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas.
Overall, both candidates can point to strong conservative credentials and high ratings from conservative and business interest groups — both earned lifetime ratings of 94 from the American Conservative Union and scored high lifetime grades from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But some differences are emerging based on votes on spending, school choice and, particularly, immigration.
Mr. Blunt, the acting House majority leader, voted for last month’s crackdown on illegal immigration and a 2004 amendment that said local law-enforcement officials should be allowed to report illegal aliens to federal authorities. He also voted against a 2002 bill that was termed a mini-amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens under Section 245(i) of the immigration code.
Mr. Boehner voted the opposite way each time, to the chagrin of those seeking more limits on immigration.
“I know how he feels about the issue — he is absolutely opposed to what we are trying to accomplish,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and the leader of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.
Mr. Tancredo said Mr. Blunt, however, is open to a get-tough approach.
“Blunt is someone I can work with on this issue. I believe he is fairly committed to making it work,” he said.
One Republican aide who asked not to be named said Mr. Boehner’s vote against the immigration bill was “sending tremors through the caucus.”
The vote came while most House Republicans were moving in the opposite direction — toward a crackdown on illegal immigration. Mr. Boehner cast one of 17 Republican “no” votes on the bill.
The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, would require employers to confirm all employees’ eligibility to work by checking Social Security numbers against a database, would authorize building nearly 700 miles of fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, and would end the diversity visa lottery program.
But Mr. Boehner’s aides insist he is committed to working on the issue.
“Mr. Boehner believes we must strengthen our border security, and any suggestion questioning his commitment to immigration reform smacks of desperation by those who have an alternative agenda,” spokesman Kevin Smith said.
After the immigration vote, Mr. Boehner said he “wanted badly to vote for it” but couldn’t because it put too many burdens on businesses.
Mr. Boehner did vote for amendments calling for the fence and ending the visa lottery program.
Excluding the immigration issue, Mr. Boehner’s voting record scored points with many conservatives on issues such as spending earmarks and promoting school choice.
Mr. Boehner does not earmark funds for his district and was one of eight Republicans to vote against the 2005 highway bill, which included billions of dollars of earmarks — specific projects that members include in spending bills, widely called pork-barrel spending. Mr. Blunt has argued that lawmakers should be able to include needed projects because they know best what their constituents need.
Also, Mr. Boehner, chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, has been a staunch defender of school choice, while Mr. Blunt in 2001 voted against an amendment that would have let children in low-performance or unsafe schools use a voucher to transfer schools.
Mr. Blunt’s aides, though, point out that he has since supported school choice for the District of Columbia and was a sponsor of a bill last year to allow private schools to be reimbursed for educating Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
Both men lay claim to being strong fiscal conservatives.
But immigration remains an issue.
Angela Kelley, deputy director of the pro-guest-worker and pro-legalization group National Immigration Forum, said Mr. Blunt recently has seemed to become tougher on illegal immigration.
She had a different opinion of Mr. Boehner. Although she said the Ohioan hasn’t come out as a champion of legalization like Arizona Republican Reps. Jeff Flake and Jim Kolbe, she added that this “doesn’t mean he couldn’t be.”
“He’s also not in the Tancredo camp, so I have great hope for him if he comes out on top,” she said.
Paul Egan, government relations director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said his group is not taking sides in the race, but that Mr. Blunt’s list of supporters is peppered with Republicans who have been out front on cracking down on illegal immigration.
Mr. Blunt announced yesterday that he had the support of Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who wrote a 1996 immigration bill, and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the lead sponsor of the fence amendment.