COEUR d'ALENE - Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador said Wednesday that his decision to not attend a Coeur d'Alene fundraiser with Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House speaker, on Friday had nothing to do with his work on the immigration reform bill or any other political differences.
"It was totally unrelated," he said, explaining that he had been invited to attend the fundraiser by Washington's 5th District Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers four weeks ago.
Labrador said he and his staff did not comment in Wednesday's Coeur d'Alene Press story because they were asked by the speaker's office not to comment on Boehner's travel plans for security reasons.
While he has purchased a plane ticket for the event, Labrador was leaning Wednesday toward spending time with his family instead. He assured The Press that his relationship with Boehner has been in good standing for six months now.
In January, Labrador joined 11 other congressmen in a revolt against Boehner, who was then running for the speaker position in the House. Despite the revolt, Boehner prevailed and that put Labrador in a tense situation with the speaker.
Boehner sparked the revolt by working with House Democrats to pass a fiscal cliff deal. In doing so, Boehner bypassed the Hastert Rule - named after former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The former speaker started a tradition (not an official rule) of requiring a majority of the controlling party's House members to support any legislation that is moved to the floor for a vote.
"Since that event, we have had a wonderful relationship," Labrador said in a phone interview with The Press on Wednesday afternoon. "I have been working with him on immigration. He has asked my advice on the issue."
In fact, Labrador said he was one of a group of people who encouraged the speaker on Tuesday to invoke the Hastert Rule on any House immigration reform bill before he allows a vote.
"I believe my actions have made him stronger," Labrador said. "He is a better speaker today than he was last year."
Last week, Labrador quit the bipartisan "Group of 8" that was crafting a House version of an immigration reform bill. Labrador said he made that decision after the Democrats on that committee decided not to address who will pay the healthcare costs for roughly 11 million newly legalized immigrants.
"Democratic leadership has made a decision to walk away from this issue," he said. "So, the Democrats on the (Group of 8) started slow-walking it back."
The congressman said he joined the Group of 8 in January after talking with members of the group who have been working on the issue for four years.
Originally, he said, the members told him they had agreed that immigrants would have to pay for their own health plans and pay all of their back taxes in order to become a citizen.
"Now, they are saying they never agreed to that," he said. "I know that's not true."
The congressman has talked with the speaker about his departure from the committee, but declined to divulge the details of the conversation.
"I like to keep my private conversations with the speaker private," he said. "But he did ask me to be a leader on this issue."
Labrador is now working with Virginia's 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte to pass a series of immigration bills through the House Judiciary Committee, so they have something to take into conference committee if the Senate is able to pass its immigration reform bill.
He said the Senate bill is likely to pass without adequately addressing internal and external enforcement issues, known as security triggers.
The Democrats want amnesty now and enforcement later, he said, while Republicans want enforcement addressed before granting citizenship.
"Every time enforcement is brought up the Democrats throw up a red flag," Labrador said. "Issues like local enforcement, they rejected that."
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would encourage state and local police to help enforce federal immigration laws. It passed along party lines on a 20-15 vote.
Labrador said he finds it hard to understand why the Democrats won't support local and federal collaboration on immigration laws when there already are similar collaborations to enforce drug and weapons trafficking.
By using the step-by-step strategy, Labrador is confident the House can achieve comprehensive immigration reform - even under the Hastert Rule.
"We are OK with legalizing immigrants," he said, "As long as we get border control and security. We want actual enforcement up front."