For months, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tried to blame President Obama for House Republicans' refusal to consider immigration reform: GOP lawmakers don't trust the White House, the argument went, so the administration's responsible for Republican intransigence. A few weeks ago, however, Boehner accidentally told the truth
: House Republicans, afraid of hard work and tough choices, are ultimately responsible for inaction on the issue.
So which is it? As a matter of substance, the Speaker's accidental honesty gave away the game, but as a matter of politics, it's awkward when the House Republican leader blames his own members for a colossal failure -- so now Boehner seems to be pushing both arguments
The Ohio Republican, speaking at a luncheon sponsored by several San Antonio business groups, acknowledged that there are some in his conference who do not want to take on the issue, but he was measured in speaking about his colleagues' resistance. "There are some members of our party who just do not want to deal with this. It's no secret," he 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."
Boehner then added, "I put the ball back in the president's court. He's going to have to do something to demonstrate his trustworthiness."
There are hints of good news here for reform proponents, but for the most part, the Speaker's position is simply incoherent. If the "vast majority" of House Republicans want to tackle immigration reform, Boehner and his leadership team can ... wait for it ... tackle immigration reform. There's nothing stopping them -- they're the House majority; they can do as they please; the Senate has already acted; and the White House is eager to sign something into law.
As for President Obama demonstrating his "trustworthiness," the administration has already shown its commitment on this issue by increasing deportations and boosting border security to heights without modern precedent. What's more, leading Democratic lawmakers have offered to delay implementation of the law until 2017, at which time there will be a new president.
Boehner has never been a policy guy, per se, but it's implausible to think the Speaker of the House isn't aware of these basic details. It's what makes his odd rhetoric somewhat baffling -- Boehner says Republicans are and aren't interested in reform, while the president is and isn't to blame for GOP intransigence.
The Speaker added, in reference to immigration reform in general, "This is not about politics, not about elections. It's about doing the right thing for the American people. It's about doing the right thing for the country. Period."
That's a perfectly nice sentiment, though it naturally leads one to wonder when, exactly, Boehner might stop talking about the issue and might start governing.
In the meantime, some of the Speaker's allies are offering his party some not-so-subtle advice. Benjy Sarlin noted
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."
To borrow a metaphor, the ball is in Boehner's court.