That was quick.
Just days after releasing the House GOP’s plan for immigration reform, Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Thursday that its chances of passing anytime soon were in mortal peril thanks to Republican mistrust of President Obama.
“There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws and it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes,” Boehner said at his weekly press briefing.
Boehner said he and his members “by and large support” the immigration reform framework he and his leadership team had released. But he added, “I’ve never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year” and suggested that because of his own party’s complaints about working with the Obama administration, the issue might prove too much to overcome.
According to Boehner, “the American people, including many of my members, don’t trust that the reform that we're talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be. The president seems to change the health care law on a whim, whenever he likes. Now he’s running around the country telling everyone that he’s going to keep acting on his own.”
Republicans, including many of the party’s most prominent supporters of reform, have long identified their colleagues' issues with the White House as the biggest barrier to an agreement even as the administration has presided over record deportations.
What stood out in Boehner’s latest remarks, however, was the way he framed this dissatisfaction. On Tuesday, Boehner’s office released a document defending immigration reform from conservatives afraid of Obama’s record. Not because his office disagreed with the premise that Obama couldn’t be trusted, but because Boehner saw it as reason to pass legislation that "would eliminate the ability for any administration to arbitrarily decide which laws to enforce.”
This time, however, Boehner put the entire onus for making the law tamper-proof on Obama instead. Given the GOP's longstanding enmity toward the president, that's virtually impossible to achieve. Asked by reporters whether there are any concrete steps the White House could take to regain Republican trust, Boehner offered little in the way of advice, suggesting only that the president work with his caucus on a series of unrelated bills.
“As I said, we're going to continue talking about this with our members, but the president is going to have to rebuild the trust that the American people and my colleagues can trust him to enforce the law the way it was written,” he said.
Obama, for his part, praised House Republicans for moving forward on immigration this month and has said he’s willing to accept their demands that legislation be broken into a series of smaller parts. But he also hinted this week that he might consider further executive action, perhaps even expanding an existing White House order deferring deportations for young undocumented immigrants, if Congress fails to act.
For the pro-reform side, the optimistic take is that Boehner is simply saying what he needs to in order to quiet his party’s concerns before moving ahead with immigration reform. Once things cool down, he could come back later with a fully written bill that he claims will permanently block the White House from usurping Congressional authority on immigration. Chuck Schumer, one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the Senate’s bipartisan bill, suggested on Thursday that Boehner's comments were for show.
"I'm not thrown back by it,” he was quoted saying by Public Radio International’s Todd Zwillich.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the president was "optimistic about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in 2014" despite Boehner's latest comments. As for whether Obama might resort to executive action to bypass Congress on the issue, Carney downplayed the idea.
"There's no alternative to comprehensive immigration reform passing through Congress," he said. "It requires legislation."
Regardless of Boehner's long term plan, his remarks reflect very real worries within his caucus that passing immigration reform in 2014 is a bad idea either on the policy merits or the politics. No one would be shocked if immigration failed to pass this year with Republicans offering the same explanation for inaction that Boehner did on Thursday.
"That's not a reason not to do an immigration bill," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday in reference to the House GOP's issues with Obama. "That's an excuse not to do it."