WASHINGTON -- Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a conservative supporter of immigration reform, expressed full confidence on Thursday that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants reform, too -- he just doesn't have enough support from members.
"I think Boehner and his team are working very hard on it, but they don't have the votes today," Barbour said at an event hosted by National Journal.
Barbour has been an outspoken conservative voice on immigration reform, including working with Democrats as part of a task force on the issue organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center. He repeatedly praised Boehner and other GOP members for their work on immigration, even though it so far hasn't led to any actual votes.
"Boehner has been the person who has pushed hardest for it," Barbour replied. "He's trying very hard."
The former governor said there are three things standing in the way of reform. For one, he said there needs to be a firm commitment to border security and ensuring people don't overstay their visas. The second issue, Barbour said, is that many Americans fear reform would reward undocumented immigrants with legal status for violating the law -- although he added that "the Senate bill is not amnesty." The final issue is that many Republicans don't trust the president to enforce the law, although he said some are using it as a political excuse.
"I think they're all very overcome-able, if that's a word," Barbour said.
Ultimately, Barbour argued that many GOP members might be pushed to support legislation by their constituents. Multiple polls, including those commissioned by conservative groups, have found that a majority of Republican voters are pro-immigration reform.
"The idea that somebody can force members to vote for something they don't want to vote for is just wrong," Barbour said. "What we do have in our favor, those of us who are pro-immigration reform, is that most Republican voters are for immigration reform. ... Those members want to be able to say to that Republican majority, 'We've solved the problems you were concerned about.'"