Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday downplayed his recent criticism of reluctant GOP lawmakers as nothing but ribbing among friends, though he privately told House Republicans that he would still like to consider immigration reform this year.
Boehner came under fire from conservative Republicans for a speech he made in Cincinnati last week when he mocked colleagues with an exaggerated whining tone for complaining that the politics of immigration overhaul were "too hard."
"You only tease the ones you love," Boehner told reporters after the closed meeting at Republican Party headquarters Tuesday.
Lawmakers tended to take the speaker's criticism in stride, but "some members were offended," said Republican Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana.
Boehner appeared to win over lawmakers, though, when he insisted "there's no secret conspiracy to have comprehensive immigration reform pass," Fleming said.
But the speaker did not rule out taking up immigration bills this year.
"We're going to continue to work with our members and to have discussions and to see if there's a way forward," Boehner said.
Attention on the House has intensified as the window for passing legislation narrows with the coming November election. A year after the Senate passed the most comprehensive immigration overhaul in a generation, the House has yet to act.
Republicans have argued that they cannot consider immigration reform because they do not trust that President Obama will enforce whatever laws they may pass -- arguments Boehner reiterated Tuesday.
But the GOP's reluctance has prompted the White House to consider using executive powers to make changes in immigration if Congress fails to act.
Advocates for immigration reform have continued to pressure the House -- and the administration -- to halt deportations. Protests outside the White House led to several arrests this week. More than 250 evangelical leaders rallied Tuesday morning outside the Capitol.
"We're trying to line up the votes," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a leading GOP advocate of immigration overhaul. "Every day we're getting more and more."