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Conflicted Boehner returns to blaming Obama for immigration reform failure

Speaker of the House John Boehner returned to blaming President Barack Obama for the House GOP not passing immigration reform legislation during remarks at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, Texas, May 12, 2014
Speaker of the House John Boehner returned to blaming President Barack Obama for the House GOP not passing immigration reform legislation during remarks at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, Texas, May 12, 2014
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At a fundraising event hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, Texas on Monday, May 12, 2014 Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-OH maintained that the reason the House will not vote on immigration reform is because of President Barack Obama. House Republicans find the president does not implement the present immigration and border laws and have trust issues with him regarding any new immigration laws. The House also has not moved on the Senate passed immigration bill, because they take a different approach, looking to pass smaller bills that place greater emphasis on border security than granting citizenship. Immigration reform does not have much support from the Republican majority in the House, and most are against bestowing citizenship to illegal immigrants, many even refusing any sort of legal status for the over 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, calling it "amnesty for lawbreakers."

Speaker Boehner in addressing the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was speaking to a group of voters that view immigration reform a priority in a state in the forefront of issue, being a border state. Boehner told the audience that he is interested in having the House pass immigration reform, but not one comprehensive bill, but in "chunks." The bills he envisions according to the Hill would deal with primarily "border security," but would not give to many additional details, saying "I don't want to make my job harder than it already is." The speaker know the limits other members of the House have on immigration and commented; "I don't want to make my job harder than it already is."

The speaker also delved into the sensitive issue of establishing legal status or citizenship for illegal immigrants. Boehner thinks the perimeters should be gauged by how fair it is to grant legal status, in consideration of immigrants that have sought citizenship legally. Boehner clarified; "When it comes to this citizenship question, I think here's the test." Continuing, Boehner described the reasoning behind his position on citizenship, saying; "There are a lot of people who waited in line, went through the process, as the law points out, and some of them took 10 years, 20 years to get through the process. They are the people that I will look to. Because whatever it is that we agree on, that's the straight-face test: how do the people who did this the hard way, how do they feel about this process?"

At the event Boehner explained to the attendees the reluctance of the House GOP; "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. 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." The Republicans main argument has been that the president is too lax already with immigration laws that do not trust him to implement any new legislation. Republicans feel they need to see President Obama respecting the laws in place now to be able to revise the entire immigration system.

Even though it is widely perceived that there is not much support for immigration reform legislation among the House GOP, Boehner maintains that is not the case. The speaker clarified the GOP stance at the event; "There are some members of our party who just do not want to deal with this. It's no secret. 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." The speaker believes after years of debates on immigration both parties are "getting closer on the policy side, in terms of how to deal with this."

Despite opposition coming from conservative, Tea Party Republicans, there has been some vocalized support for immigration reform from the House GOP. Rep. Peter T. King, R-NY, who wrote a letter to speaker urging passage of the unemployment benefits extension, did the same with immigration reform, writing that some legal status has to be given the illegal immigrants, because "The reality ... is that we are not going to deport 11 million immigrants." While Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock voiced their position, urging the speaker to vote on the matter through video format.

Despite what he says, Boehner and the House might be considering reviewing and considering immigration reform after the primaries end and before the August recess commences. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL a Republican supporter and advocate for immigration reform told Roll Call there is a deadline to pass any immigration reform legislation. Diaz-Balart seems to believe if there no action by August, that will be the end, especially since it's a midterm election year. Diaz-Balart commented; "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." He also believes the GOP will do what is right; "So I feel optimistic that we're going get it done because I think most people in the House understand that what we have is unacceptable." Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the House Republican Conference Chair also said that the House might take up immigration during that narrow period of opportunity, although House Majority Leader Eric Cantor did not include immigration reform of the House's spring agenda.

In an election year, every action is scrutinized as politically motivated, Boehner wanted to clarify that it is not the case with immigration reform, saying; "I have not let my colleagues do this to me, and I have not let the Washington press corps do this to me. This is not about politics. It is not about elections. It is about doing the right thing for the American people. It's about doing the right thing for the country. Period." The speaker said the time when politics dominated policy was "way off in the backroom somewhere with our crazy uncle." Boehner promised that neither politics nor the midterms is going to motivate him regarding important legislation; "That is not going to drive me to do the right or the wrong thing. It has no impact."

Boehner has adamantly returned to his message of blaming the president for the House not passing immigration reform. In late April, Boehner briefly put the blame on House Republicans for not wanting to pass the legislation, mocking them when he delivered remarks at a luncheon held at Brown's Run County Club in Madison Township in Ohio on Thursday, April, 24, 2014. The speaker made fun that the reason his fellow congressman are not taking up immigration reform is because they find it to difficult a task. There he sarcastically expressed; "Here's the attitude. Ohhhh. Don't make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard."

The comments caused a media storm and prompted far ranging reactions from Conservative Republicans who chastised the speaker for criticizing his party, and moderate Republicans and Democrats who found the remarks "encouraging" that the speaker might be interested in passing immigration reform this year after all. The backlash was especially strong from members of the House GOP, who were planning to strip Boehner of his speakership in the 114th Congress, and bestow on next in line House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA.

The speaker later clarified and backtracked on his mocking comments during the GOP leadership press conference on Tuesday, April 29. Boehner explained; "There was no mocking. Listen: You all know me. You tease the ones you love. But some people misunderstood what I had to say." Continuing, he returned to his message of blaming Obama for the impasse; "And I wanted to make sure that members understood that the biggest impediment we have in moving immigration reform forward is [the president]." The speaker also insisted there is no "conspiracy" to pass immigration this summer. Still Boehner would not backtrack on the need to pass immigration reform in the long run; "We continue to work with our members. We all know we have a broken immigration system. We're going to continue to work with our members and have discussions to see if there's a way forward."Any way he could not escape criticism, Republicans did not think his comments were enough of apology, just an excuse, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV snipped; "I'm glad he's complaining about his members for a change and I don't have to."

Immigration reform has stalled since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act nearly a year ago on June 27, 2013, which written by a bipartisan the Gang of Eight senators, and passed with bipartisan support 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. Since then the Republican House of Representatives has stalled on immigration legislation. There is still a wide chasm between President Obama, the Democrats and the House on immigration reform. More or less President Obama wants a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

The House Republicans have been vocal about how they want to approach immigration reform, and it is far different than the Senate's bill. The GOP outlined a "set of principles" on immigration reform during their Republican Congressional retreat at the end of January 2014, however most in the party did not agree with them. The Republicans prefer passing piecemeal legislation rather than one sweeping bill, and do not want to give citizenship to the illegal immigrants instead they are willing to give them some legal status that would be acquired through a rigorous process, but citizenship is for most out of the question. The House GOP finds border security to be the top provision of an immigration reform bill, especially because of their trust issues with Obama's current implementation of those laws

House Speaker Boehner has been teetering between rhetoric where he wants to pass immigration reform, and where backpedals, mostly because of opposition from his party. Many believe Boehner wants to pass some reform, but cannot because the opposition would be detrimental to his speakership, and he promised not to violate the Hastert rule of going against the Republican majority's sentiment. According to the Washington Times Boehner's passed voting record shows he is more liberal on the issue that most the House GOP, and that his comment at the rotary club might represent his true feelings about the bill and his colleagues. Recently Boehner has been even more vocal than President Obama on the issue. Although immigration had been a priority early on his presidency, Obama now only selectively speaks on the issue, and periodically urges the House to pass the Senate bill.

One such recent occasion was for the Mexican national holiday Cinco de Mayo on Monday, May 5, which is celebrated by many Hispanic Americans, where Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke out again urging the House to pass an immigration bill at the White House's reception celebration. President Obama claimed again that immigration reform is vital to America's economy linking it to his economic opportunity program; "Opportunity for all is why I'm fighting so hard to fix a broken immigration system, I am convinced that America's prosperity and security depend on comprehensive, common-sense immigration reform." He then urged the House to pass a comprehensive bill and urged Americans to pressure the House into doing so, expressing; "It's time for members of Congress, and Republicans in the House to catch up with the rest of the country. I need all of you to go out there and mobilize particularly over the next two months - tell them to get on board … say yes to fixing our broken immigration system. Let's get it done right now once and for all."

Vice President Biden agreed that the pressure needs to be put on the House GOP to force a vote on the Senate's bill; "We don't have to redouble our efforts. We have to redouble our demand. We have to redouble our demand that the House of Representatives takes up legislation that's going to match the strong bill that came out of the United States Senate." Biden also believes the Boehner wants to put immigration reform to a vote and urged the speaker do what is right; "It's time for John - he's a good man, John Boehner - to stand up and other Republicans to stand up. It's time for him to stand up, stand up and not let the minority - I think it's a minority - of the Republican Party in the House keep us from moving in a way that will change the circumstances for millions and millions of lives."

Brenden Buck, Speaker Boehner's spokesman managed to turn Biden's remarks into yet again another opportunity to blame President Obama and return the GOP majority almost unified message, stating; "If the Vice President truly shares the Speaker's desire to get reform done, he should encourage his boss -- the President -- to stop arbitrarily enforcing the laws already on the books and work to build trust with Republicans and the American people." It remains to be seen if Boehner's true feelings about passing immigration reform will result in any bills passing this summer or if the GOP majority win out, and immigration reform becomes one of the issues of the midterm elections.

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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.