Boehner Doubts Immigration Bill Will Pass in 2014


WASHINGTON — The yearlong effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, which had the support of President Obama, Republican leaders and much of American business and labor, was seriously imperiled on Thursday when Speaker John A. Boehner conceded that it was unlikely he could pass a bill.

His pronouncement, amid mounting resistance from conservatives, significantly narrowed the window for success this year and left it to Mr. Obama to win the trust of balking Republicans.

Mr. Boehner’s remarks came a week after he and other House Republican leaders offered a statement of principles intended to win support for the measure. But, he said, House Republicans are not prepared to move forward in partnership with a Democratic administration that they believe will not fairly and impartially carry out the laws they pass.

“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,” said Mr. Boehner of Ohio, citing executive actions by the Obama administration that have changed or delayed the carrying out of the president’s health care law.

At their most optimistic, the speaker’s words put the drive for immigration legislation in abeyance until tempers cool, some advocates in Congress said. But lawmakers on both sides of the issue conceded that the politics had turned sharply negative in recent days.

Tea Party activists have shifted their focus from cutting the federal budget deficit to thwarting what they call amnesty for those in the country illegally. Conservative groups have called for a clean sweep of the Republican leadership. One House member openly suggested that a drive now for comprehensive immigration legislation should cost Mr. Boehner his job.

While reiterating his personal support for addressing the nation’s faltering laws to control the border, admit immigrants and workers, and handle the 11 million people in the country illegally, Mr. Boehner lamented, “I’ve never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year.”

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who organized opposition in the House toward the leadership’s immigration push, said Mr. Boehner’s comments were “a recognition of reality.” “Obviously, the speaker had some goal to try to do something,” Mr. Sessions said, “but we were too far apart on substance to ever realistically expect an agreement with the Democrats.”

Republican divisions are so deep, Mr. Sessions said, “it wouldn’t end well in any circumstance, so that was the only decision he could make.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a leading negotiator of the Senate’s sweeping immigration legislation, blamed the toxic fallout from the fight over the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Obama’s promises since his State of the Union address to use his phone and his pen to wield executive power when Congress will not act has soured some Republicans who might have been persuaded to move forward.

“One of the casualties of Obamacare is it makes it hard for politicians to do big things,” Mr. Graham said. “They’re complicated to administer, and the president has shown a willingness to unilaterally change provisions that are politically harmful.”

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, rejected the notion that the president had been an untrustworthy negotiating partner on immigration. His efforts to bolster border security and enforce immigration laws have angered many of the immigration advocates who back him on his legislative effort.

“The challenges within the Republican Party on this issue are well known, and they certainly don’t have anything to do with the president,” he said, praising the Republican leadership for the progress it had made.

But that leadership appears to have made a sharp reversal. The speaker’s comments came two days after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, cited “irresolvable conflict” between the House and the Senate and said, “I don’t see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place.”

Mr. McConnell’s office had given aides to the speaker a warning that he would say that, and senior House Republican aides said Thursday that the two leaders did not disagree.

Even Republicans modestly supportive of immigration legislation have said this election year is not the time to move forward. Doing so, they say, would only splinter the party and detract from the attention Republican candidates are trying to focus on the troubled rollout of Mr. Obama’s health care law and his sagging approval ratings. By casting the issue as one of trust in the president, Mr. Boehner tried to lay the blame at the White House’s feet for what appears to be a quickly flagging immigration push.

“The reason I said we need a step-by-step common-sense approach to this is so we can build trust with the American people that we’re doing this the right way,” Mr. Boehner said. “And, frankly, one of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust.”

At their retreat in Maryland last week, many Republicans rejected outright the House leadership’s one-page “standards for immigration reform.” Others said that, with trends going their way as midterm elections approach, it was a bad time to take on a number of contentious issues.

Since then, the opposition has grown fiercer. Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, who is seeking the Republican nomination to succeed Senator Saxby Chambliss, released an Internet ad that asks, “Should House Republicans surrender on amnesty for illegals or raising the debt ceiling?” He then walks in front of the camera to issue an adamant “No!”

The conservative activist L. Brent Bozell has called for the entire House Republican leadership to be replaced, and on Wednesday his group, ForAmerica, blitzed the speaker’s office with thousands of phone calls to jam the lines and protest his stance on immigration. Representative Raúl Labrador of Idaho, an early negotiator on the issue and now a fierce opponent, told the newspaper The Hill that an immigration push by Mr. Boehner this year “should cost him his speakership.”

Immigration advocates said a failure by the House to act would be on the speaker’s shoulders, not the president’s. And business groups usually friendly to the Republican leadership held out hope that the efforts on immigration could be revived.

“We don’t see the speaker’s comments as in any way pulling the plug on immigration reform, but rather acknowledging another difficult issue that will have to be dealt with,” said Randy Johnson, the senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a chief negotiator on immigration, said he was “not really discouraged by what Speaker Boehner said.” But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, was not so sanguine.

“That caucus he has is really unusual,” Mr. Reid said of House Republicans. “They went down and did this salute to how good they were last week at their retreat. They outlined principles of immigration. I guess today they decided they have no principles as it relates to immigration.”

Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.

See at:


Posted in