Boehner Has Backed Himself into a Corner on Immigration
Policy + Politics

Boehner Has Backed Himself into a Corner on Immigration

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is giving more than lip service to getting an immigration reform bill through the House this year. Two weeks ago, it was reported that he emphatically told a group of Republican donors in Las Vegas that he is “hell-bent” on the task. A few days ago, in public remarks in his home state, he was recorded mocking fellow Republicans who see the issue as too politically difficult.

The two events did nothing to endear Boehner to a Republican conference that has a significant element that is already reported to be plotting the demise of his Speakership.

Related: GOP Mutiny Could Unseat Boehner and McConnell as Party Leaders

Boehner’s remarks in Las Vegas were a surprise to many in the Republican Party, because in February Boehner seemed to dismiss any chance of passing immigration reform with Barack Obama in the White House.

“There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” Boehner said at the time, referring to the many changes in the Affordable Care Act since it was passed in 2010. “And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.” Boehner’s staff later told reporters that despite the comments in Las Vegas, nothing in the Speaker’s position had changed.

Last week’s comments in Ohio were, if anything, even more damaging.

He told listeners that the appetite in the Republican conference “wasn’t too good” for immigration reform. “Here's the attitude,” he began. Then, adopting a whiny, childlike voice he continued, “’Ooohh, don't make me do this. Ooohh, this is too hard.'” Back in his normal tone of voice he said, dismissively, “You should hear them."

Related: Tea Part Backers, With Hidden Agendas, Aim at ‘Rinos’

Continuing, Boehner castigated his colleagues. “We get elected to make choices,” he said. “We get elected to solve problems, and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to….They'll take the path of least resistance.”

Boehner didn’t face too much public criticism from his congressional colleagues over his comments – it may be that many of them have heard similar complaints in private. But some elements of the conservative establishment didn’t waste time attacking a Speaker whom they view as insufficiently doctrinaire.

Tea Party-backed Idaho Republican Raul Labrador said Boehner should have mentioned distrust of the President “instead of criticizing the people he is supposed to be leading.” He continued, “If he wants the Republican conference to follow him on this issue, he needs to stand up for House Republicans instead of catering to the media and special-interest groups.”

Outside groups of right wing activists were equally displeased. "The Republican Party should be large enough for fact-based policy debates,” Michael A. Needham, chief executive officer of the right-wing pressure group Heritage Action, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, John Boehner is more interested in advancing the agenda of high-powered DC special interests than inspiring Americans with a policy vision that allows freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society to flourish.”

Related: Jeb Bush’s Heretical View of Illegal Immigration

Tea Party conservatives, though, weren’t the only ones to jump on Boehner’s comments.

House Democrats immediately noted that if Boehner really believes in making tough choices, and really believes that immigration reform needs to happen, he ought to bring a bill that has already passed the Senate to a vote in the House. The Senate bill, Democrats note, passed with a bipartisan majority.

What’s more, it’s generally believed that if Boehner were to allow the bill to get a vote in the House, it would pass. The majority of its support, to be sure, would come from Democrats, but there appear to be more than enough Republicans in favor of it to get the bill over the finish line.

On Twitter, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote, “If you want to pass immigration reform, ], bring it up for a vote. It'll pass.”

In a graphic posted to social media, Democrats quoted Boehner’s words in Ohio and turned them back on him. “You’re the Speaker. Make a choice. Solve a problem. Bring immigration reform up for a vote.”

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times