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McCain: House GOP immigration ‘principles’ wouldn’t have happened ‘if Boehner hadn’t gotten control’

House Republicans wouldn't have been able to release the outlines of an immigration reform plan if House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) hadn't seized control of his colleagues, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggested Thursday.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). (Via PostTV)

The Republican senator, who helped write the Senate’s immigration measure passed last year, made his comments moments after House Republicans said for the first time that they would be open to allowing the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to live and work legally in the United States, though they did not support a “special path” for them to achieve citizenship.

“Right now I’m just happy that apparently they’re going to move on an issue that they have not for a long time," McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill. "And if Boehner hadn’t gotten control of his conference this wouldn’t have happened. So, maybe there’s a silver lining in the shutdown.”

Asked about the House GOP's immigration "principles," McCain described them as "fine" and added that "I will continue to think they’re fine until they work their way through it, and I will support everything they’re doing and certainly will not take shots from the sidelines."

The announcement of the House GOP's principles was made at their annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., where Boehner distributed a broad list of immigration principles to his membership for private discussions. Reporters received copies later Thursday.

Within hours, the AFL-CIO issued a strongly worded statement opposing the plan -- opposition that McCain quickly dismissed.

“I think most people now in their right mind should be glad that we’re seeing movement on the House side," he said. "Now, if you’re going to start carping at them on the first day they’re putting out principles, you’re not serious about immigration reform.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who negotiated the Senate immigration bill with McCain and six other senators and has kept in touch in recent months with Republicans working on immigration, sounded a more conciliatory tone.

“While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans, in both the House and Senate, can in some way come together and pass immigration reform that both sides can accept. It is a long, hard road but the door is open," he said in a statement.

But Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leading advocate for a dramatic overhaul of the immigration system, was skeptical. "The details really matter, and I have not seen anything concrete from the Republicans, so I am not in a position to say 'yes' or 'no' to anything," he said in a statement. He added later: "The Senate passed a bill with strong bipartisan support and the House should do the same.  I think we are getting a little bit closer, and that bodes well for the future."

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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