At his weekly press conference on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH stated that he does not believe immigration reform would pass this year until President Barack Obama rebuilds trust with Republicans, because his recent actions have been "feeding more distrust." The Speaker's prediction comes two days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY also insinuated the improbability of passing legislation this year when he called immigration reform an "irresolvable conflict." This comes after Congressional Republicans released their set of principles for immigration reform on Jan. 30, which Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY received well believing it will open the door where the House and Senate could agree and legislation could be passed. President Obama however, is more open to the Republican proposals than before, but still wants a path to citizenship which Republicans oppose. Despite Boehner's proclamation and McConnell's statement earlier in the week, the White House remains optimistic that a deal is still possible.
Both President Obama and Speaker Boehner might not agree on the method to get there, but they do agree immigration reform is a "priority." Still there are many conflicts standing in the way to passing a new immigration law. Speaker Boehner explained why he does not believe it will possible to pass immigration this year predominantly because of trust issues with the President, stating; "One of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust. 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 described why he is retracting on past comments showing inclination towards immigration reform as long as it meets Republican standards, especially in removing citizenship for illegal immigrants in any prospective legislation. Now the Speaker is emphasizing how difficult he always thought passing legislation would be; "I never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year [on immigration reform] and the reason I said that we need a step-by-step common-sense approach to this is that so we can build trust with the American people that we're doing this the right way."
The Speaker shouldered the blame for immigration reform not advancing squarely on President Obama's shoulders primarily for two reasons, his new focus executive orders to bypass Congress for legislation, and the fact that he does not want to "work" and confer with Congress to create this sweeping legislative reform.
The Republicans have been upset about President Obama's State of the Union announcement and recent actions using executive orders to pass legislation bypassing Congress. This move has created additional tension and resentment between the Republicans and the President, making it more difficult to negotiate legislation. Boehner criticized; "Now he's running around the country telling everyone that he's going to keep acting on his own, keeps talking about his phone and his pen. And he's feeding more distrust about whether he's committed to the rule of law."
Boehner also reiterated another obstacle to making a deal for immigration reform, President Obama and his administration's disregard to working with Congress to accomplish this goal. The Speaker explained; "The president's asking us to move one of the biggest bills of his presidency, and yet he's shown very little willingness to work with us on the smallest of things. I have made clear for 15 months the need for the Congress and the administration to work together on the issue of immigration reform. It needs to get done. I'm going to continue to talk to my members about how to move forward, but the president is going to have to do his part as well."
Speaking soon after Speaker Boehner's press conference declaration White House Press Secretary Jay Carney still remains optimistic about immigration reform passing this year countering Boehner's entire statement. Carney stated during the daily press briefing; "We've seen significant movement among Republicans on this issue. And it is heartening to see that Republican leaders in Congress, including speaker of the House and others, identify immigration reform as a necessary priority. That's a good thing. Nothing like this, nothing as important, nothing as comprehensive ever comes fast or easy in Washington, so this won't be any different."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA both commended his "good faith" and called the Speaker out for what for what amounted to an "excuse" not to move forward; "That's not a reason not to do an immigration bill, that's an excuse not to do it. And around here you have to always differentiate between what is a reason and what it is an excuse." Sen. Schumer also remained optimistic despite Boehner's claims because there was no definite negative; "He has not said, 'I'm not doing it.' He has not said, 'It's over.' He has said it will be very difficult. It is -- he's right, I agree with him."
On Tuesday, Feb. 4 Senate Minority Leader McConnell speaking to the press gave his opinion on the likelihood immigration reform will pass this year. He thinks it impossible because the divide between the House's proposal and the Senate's bill is too wide for any agreement leading to legislation; "I think we have sort of an irresolvable conflict here. The Senate insists on comprehensive and the House says it won't go to conference with the Senate on comprehensive and wants to look at it step-by-step. I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place."
At the two-day Republican Congressional retreat in Maryland's Eastern Shore, Speaker Boehner revealed the House Republicans set of principles to the press on Thursday, Jan. 30, declaring; "I think it's time to deal with it," But how we deal with it is going to be critically important." The set of principles provided "legal status" for illegal immigrants, but no path to citizenship. The principles delineated; "These persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S. but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families." The principles also emphasized border security. Despite the step forward, many Republicans still oppose immigration legislation, especially passing it during an election year.
The documents was well received by Senate Democrats, with Sen. Schumer expressing that there is a possibility to work towards passing a bill with the principles; "While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans, in both the House and Senate, can in some way come together and pass immigration reform that both sides can accept. It is a long, hard road but the door is open."
There is still also a wide chasm between the President and the House on immigration reform. Although Obama has been more humble and more open as of late to listening to the Republican Congress' proposal and stipulations for an immigration bill. However, Obama still would like to see a path towards citizenship included, which is what he told CNN's Jack Tapper in an interview that aired on the news network on Jan. 31. The President expressed; "If the speaker proposes something that says right away, folks aren't being deported, families aren't being separated, we're able to attract top young students to provide the skills or start businesses here and then there's a regular process of citizenship, I'm not sure how wide the divide ends up being… We should also make sure at the end of the day people are also able to become citizens."
Immigration reform has stalled since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill on June 27, 2013, which written by a bipartisan the Gang of Eight senators by a vote of 68-to-32. The bill included a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants presently in the country that would take 14 years, and tougher border security provisions, which helped garner 14 Republicans votes. House Republicans find border security to be the top provision of an immigration reform bill; they do not support a path to citizenship and wanted to pass the immigration reform in separate piecemeal laws, rather than one sweeping bill.
Since then the Republican House of Representatives has stalled on immigration legislation. In November 2013, Speaker Boehner declared that; "Is immigration reform dead? Absolutely not. I believe that Congress needs to deal with this issue. Our committees are continuing to do their work. There are a lot of private conversations that are underway to try to figure out, how do we best move on a common-sense, step-by-step basis to address this very important issue...because it is a very important issue." This statement prompted Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-NV to have hope that immigration reform would still be able to pass.
The Speaker of the House also discussed the current deadlock on raising the debt ceiling during his press conference, which needs to be done by the end of February. Boehner promised despite the differences over reducing the deficit the country will not default on its loans; "We're still looking for the pieces to this puzzle, but listen, we do not want to default on our debt, and we're not going to default on our debt. We're in discussions with members about how we can move ahead. We've got time to do this. We're going to continue to work at it. Mother Theresa is a saint now but, you know, if the Congress wanted to make her a saint and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn't get 218 Republican votes."
- Republican Standards for Immigration Reform, Jan. 30, 2014