Just last year, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a public commitment on immigration reform. The Republican leader vowed to the nation that his Republican-led House “is going to do its own job in developing an immigration bill.” He added, “It is time for Congress to act. But I believe the House has its job to do, and we will do our job.”
Boehner, we now know, broke his word. He made a commitment and then failed to follow through. The Speaker, whose word wasn’t exactly golden before, failed not only to hold a vote on the popular, bipartisan immigration bill, he also failed to keep his promise about offering an alternative.
And so, President Obama began plans to act on his own through executive action, taking advantage of the executive branch’s powers under prosecutorial discretion. As of yesterday, Obama said he intends to move forward with his plans – though if Congress gets its act together and passes worthwhile legislation, the White House’s executive actions would disappear.
Today, Boehner offered a curious response.
House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday warned that the president will “poison the well” for the new Congress if he takes executive action to address the deportation of undocumented immigrants.“I’ve made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally on his own outside of his authority, he will poison the well and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress,” Boehner told reporters at his first news conference after big GOP gains in Tuesday’s midterm elections.“When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path,” he said.
It’s times like these that I really wish Speaker Boehner was better at policymaking.
This isn’t complicated. Here’s the mind-numbing state of the debate on immigration policy:
1. Congress won’t do anything on immigration.
2. Unless the president works on the issue;
3. At which point Congress won’t do anything on immigration.
The “poison the well” comment is especially strange coming from someone in Boehner’s position. If the president uses his power to address a problem that Congress refuses to act, it will hurt lawmakers’ feelings? So they’ll continue to refuse to act?
C’mon. Let’s try to be grown-ups for a while.
Wait, it gets worse. If Boehner were to say, “Mr. President, hold off on executive action and I promise to pass an immigration reform bill,” it would be hard to take seriously. After all, the Speaker already gave his word once, and failed to keep his commitment. Once a leader breaks a promise, future promises are suspect.
But he’s not even saying this. Rather, Boehner’s newest line is that Obama should do nothing in response to Congress doing nothing, and then maybe, if lawmakers’ feelings aren’t hurt, perhaps they’ll think about working on a bill that Republicans consider acceptable.
This is a bad joke. Anyone taking the Speaker’s posturing seriously today is fooling themselves.