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John Boehner still working on immigration reform as time runs out

Speaker Boehner said on Monday that he wants to pass immigration reform, but many in his party are still too upset with Obama's performance to take any action.
US Speaker of the House and John Boehner (R-OH) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on May 8, 2014.
US Speaker of the House and John Boehner (R-OH) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on May 8, 2014.

Republicans are close to working out a plan for immigration reform, House Speaker John Boehner said Monday. Just don’t expect a vote on it anytime soon.

Boehner, who has chided his caucus in recent weeks for their reluctance to pass legislation on the issue, said that many in his party were still too upset with President Obama’s performance in office to take any action at all.

“We’re at a point where my colleagues don’t trust that the president will implement the law the way we would see it passed,” Boehner said at an event hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio. “So I’ve put the ball back in the president’s court. He’s going to have to do something to demonstrate some level of trustworthiness.”

Only a handful of House Republicans have been willing to endorse a path to legal status of any kind for undocumented immigrants. Boehner and other House GOP leaders released a set of principles in January that included a legalization program, but it landed with a thud. Days later, Boehner announced that reform was on hold until relations with Obama improved.

Despite all this, Boehner insisted that most of his caucus was willing to act this year. If so, they’re keeping awful quiet.

“There are some members of our party who just do not want to deal with this. It’s no secret,” Boehner said. “I do believe the vast majority of our members do want to deal with this, they want to deal with it openly, honestly and fairly.”

Time is running out for Boehner to act. Hispanic, labor and immigration advocacy groups, largely resigned to the failure of reform in the House, have stepped up pressure on the White House to at least slow deportations. Obama has ordered a review of enforcement policies, and activists believe he will take action if Congress fails to move legislation within the next two months. At that point, the House GOP will likely declare immigration reform officially dead.

“The legislative process in essence, frankly, has to work on deadlines. There’s a deadline. And the deadline is that if we don’t get it done by August it doesn’t happen,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), one of the most prominent pro-immigration reform Republicans, told Roll Call last week.

Diaz-Balart and other immigration backers have set similar deadlines in the past only to set new dates after they crossed the old ones. But supporters of reform think the chances of passing reform will be even worse in 2015 and 2016, thanks to a presidential campaign that’s likely to drag national Republican leaders to the right.

Republican-leaning immigration supporters, which include a variety of business leaders and trade associations, have been lobbying Republicans for year to pass a reform bill. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue warned Republicans on Monday that failure to pass a bill this year would be fatal to the party’s presidential hopes given the rising power of Hispanic and Asian voters who are largely opposed to the GOP’s current immigration stance.  

“If the Republicans don’t do it, they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016,” he said in a panel discussion. “I mean, think about that. Think about who the voters are.”