President Obama on Thursday said that he had a “very pleasant conversation” with Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., a day after the House Majority Leader slammed him after a phone call where they discussed immigration reform.
“I actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor yesterday. I did,” said Obama to laughter, during a briefing at the White House. “You are always kind of surprised by the mismatch between press releases and the conversation.”
Obama said he told Cantor privately what he has publicly -- that House Republicans should act quickly to pass immigration reform.
“There is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform,” said Obama, and he criticized the GOP-controlled House for failing to move ahead on the contentious issue.
“Right now what’s holding us back is House Republican leadership not going to go ahead and let the process move forward,” he said.
The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform last June, but that effort has stalled in the House, where conservative lawmakers say they want to address the issue piecemeal and focus first on border security.
In a statement Wednesday marking one year since a bipartisan Senate group unveiled their immigration plan, Obama pressed Republicans to “listen to the will of the American people” and take up reform legislation.
But Cantor blasted Obama after their phone call, citing the statement and accusing the president of being focused on “partisan messaging” and not working with Republicans.
The majority leader said that Obama had called him “hours after he issued a partisan statement which attacked me and my fellow House Republicans and which indicated no sincere desire to work together.”
“You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue,” Cantor said.
Obama, though, downplayed the fight and pressed Republicans to act.
“It was a pretty friendly conversation. I think in his press release, I gather that he was referring to the observation that we made the day earlier that it had now been a year since the Senate had passed a strong bipartisan bill and that although we heard a lot of talk about the House Republicans interested in doing something nothing had happened yet,” said Obama.
“I know there are Republicans in the House, as there are Republicans in the Senate, who know this is the right thing to do,” he added. “I also know that its hard politics.”
Obama is also facing pressure from immigrant rights groups to use executive action to halt all deportations but the president has resisted those calls, saying that reform must come from Congress.
Democratic lawmakers, though, say that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is working on a number of “fixes” to immigration law.
Obama said Johnson was talking to both parties and reviewing measures the administration could take but offered no timeline.