House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Credit: Chas Geer)

Hold the phone: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor begs to differ with President Obama. Photo: Chas Geer

President Obama today sought to make light of a stinging public rebuke from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who took the president to task for disparaging GOP lawmakers while seeking to make a deal on immigration reform.

Obama, the No. 2 House leader said yesterday after a phone conversation with the president, should “stop his partisan messaging and begin to seriously work with Congress.”

Hours before the president called Cantor, the White House had issued a statement in which Obama ripped House Republicans for favoring “extreme measures” and “seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform.”

“You’re always kind of surprised by the mismatch between press releases and the conversation,” Obama told reporters with a grin during a short appearance in the White House briefing room. A reporter asked the president about the rebuke from Cantor, and the prospect of his taking more executive action on the status of illegal immigrants.

The White House had put out the word in the wake of Cantor’s criticism that the president simply had made a “pleasant” call to the Virginia Republican, who is Jewish, to wish him a happy Passover.

Actually, yesterday was the third day of Passover, which lasts eight days. Obama called Cantor only hours after again castigating House Republicans for inaction on “comprehensive” immigration reform.

Cantor’s statement read in part:

After five years, President Obama still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress to get things done. You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue. I told the president the same thing I told him the last time we spoke. House Republicans do not support Senate Democrats’ immigration bill and amnesty efforts, and it will not be considered in the House.”

Obama struck a softer tone today, saying that he “shared” with Cantor that, given “bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform,” he thought “Congress should act.”

House Speaker John Boehner, Cantor, and other Republican leaders have insisted for months that the House will not take up the huge bill passed by the Senate last June, which many conservatives regard as granting amnesty to lawbreakers. Instead, the House is considering individual aspects of how to improve the immigration system and enforce current law.

“What conservatives in the House have realized is that President Obama has no interest in enforcing the law as it is written, only as he would prefer it be written,” Heritage analyst David Inserra told The Foundry, adding:

Even now,  President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson are reviewing DHS’s enforcement policies to try to see how they can ignore more immigration laws. Trusting the Obama administration to enforce new laws, when it increasingly and dangerously ignores existing laws, is the epitome of naiveté.”

In the White House briefing room, however, Obama continued to put those who disagree in a bad light.

“The House Republican leadership is holding us back and not letting the process move forward,”  the president told reporters, adding:

I also know it’s hard politics for Republicans because there are some in their base who are very opposed to this. … It’s no longer a matter of policy, it’s a matter of action.”

Cantor aide Rory Cooper said afterward that his boss stands by his statement, which also urged the president to work with Republicans on “other issues where we can find common ground, build trust and get America working again.”

But, Cooper added, during the call Cantor did wish Obama a happy Easter and the president did wish the majority leader a happy Passover. “That exchange was indeed pleasant and appreciated,” he said.

This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.