As key to im­mi­gra­tion re­form, Boehner sends mixed sig­nals Blames fel­low Repub­li­cans, then Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

House Speaker John A. Boehner has emerged as the key fig­ure of im­mi­gra­tion re­form leg­is­la­tion this year, and he has sent dra­mat­i­cally mixed sig­nals about whether Congress will ap­prove a bill.

At home in Ohio last month, he seemed to mock his fel­low House Repub­li­cans by telling a lo­cal Ro­tary Club that they think im­mi­gra­tion re­form is too po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult. But re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton last week, Mr. Boehner said the prob­lem wasn’t his troops, but rather a trust deficit with Pres­i­dent Obama.

Ad­vo­cates and op­po­nents of im­mi­gra­tion re­form now say they don’t know where the House speaker stands on the is­sue as time runs short be­fore November elec­tions.

“He has been very con­sis­tent with his in­con­sis­ten­cies on im­mi­gra­tion, so no­body knows what to ex­pect or what to be­lieve on this topic,” said Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Repub­li­can who has long op­posed grant­ing le­gal sta­tus to il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

He said talk of le­gal­iza­tion is en­cour­ag­ing more il­le­gal im­mi­grants to try to en­ter the U.S.

Mr. Boehner re­places the pres­i­dent as the key fig­ure on im­mi­gra­tion re­form. Mr. Obama long pledged to tackle the is­sue dur­ing his first year in the White House, and his po­lit­i­cal stock among His­pan­ics sank when he failed to fol­low through.

Af­ter the pres­i­dent helped shep­herd a bi­par­ti­san deal through the Se­nate last year, chiefly by stay­ing out of ne­go­ti­a­tions, at­ten­tion shifted to the House — and to Mr. Boehner.

Un­like many oth­ers in his party, the Ohio Repub­li­can seems to want to pass a le­gal­iza­tion bill.

Two days af­ter Mr. Obama won re-elec­tion in 2012, Mr. Boehner an­nounced that a com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion deal would be a top bi­par­ti­san pri­or­ity for Repub­li­cans look­ing to find ar­eas of agree­ment with the pres­i­dent.

“This is­sue has been around far too long and while I be­lieve it’s im­por­tant for us to se­cure our bor­ders and to en­force our laws, I think a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach is long over­due, and I’m con­fi­dent that the pres­i­dent, my­self, oth­ers, can find the com­mon ground to take care of this is­sue once and for all,” he told ABC News.

Eigh­teen months later, Mr. Boehner is trapped be­tween that vow and the re­al­ity of a Repub­li­can Party bit­terly di­vided on the is­sue. Many rank-and-file Repub­li­cans hope to push aside the is­sue in the run-up to the midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions.

Those po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions could be partly why Mr. Boehner has sent con­flict­ing sig­nals.

The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported that Mr. Boehner told a group of donors he was “hell­bent” on im­mi­gra­tion re­form this year, but late last month told Ro­tary mem­bers that his own troops didn’t have the po­lit­i­cal courage to take on the is­sue.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton, Mr. Boehner said he was kid­ding. He said the real prob­lem was that Repub­li­cans, hav­ing seen the pres­i­dent carve up his own health care law with uni­lat­eral ex­emp­tions and de­lays, didn’t trust Mr. Obama to en­force parts of an im­mi­gra­tion law.

“The big­gest im­ped­i­ment we have in mov­ing im­mi­gra­tion re­form is the Amer­i­can peo­ple don’t trust the pres­i­dent to en­force or im­ple­ment the law that we may or may not pass,” Mr. Boehner told re­porters.

Repub­li­cans who op­pose le­gal­iza­tion say they are wor­ried that Mr. Boehner will try to slip a bill through the House, even if it’s dur­ing a lame-duck ses­sion af­ter con­gres­sional elec­tions. Im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates say they are wor­ried the speaker will bow to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure and shelve the is­sue with­out test­ing the level of sup­port.

Ta­mar Ja­coby, pres­i­dent of Im­mi­gra­tionWorks USA, said she takes Mr. Boehner at his word: He is hell­bent on leg­is­la­tion but leads a cau­cus with wildly di­ver­gent views.

Still, she said, the Repub­li­can Party has un­der­gone a ma­jor shift over the past decade that Mr. Boehner is try­ing to nur­ture.

“Lead­er­ship has to do a com­bi­na­tion of gaug­ing that ap­petite and also press that ap­petite, to move it,” Ms. Ja­coby said. “That’s what he’s try­ing to do. He can’t be way out ahead of them, but he can be en­cour­ag­ing.”

She said signs of Mr. Boehner’s com­mit­ment are ap­par­ent. Late last year, he hired Becky Tal­lent, who was a top im­mi­gra­tion ad­viser to Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can and a long­time ad­vo­cate of le­gal­iza­tion. Then early this year, Mr. Boehner re­leased a set of prin­ci­ples lay­ing out a

“He has been very con­sis­tent

with his in­con­sis­ten­cies on im­mi­gra­tion,

so no­body knows what to ex­pect or what to be­lieve on

this topic.” — Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Repub­li­can who has long op­posed grant­ing le­gal sta­tus to il­le­gal im­mi­grants

vi­sion for im­mi­gra­tion re­form that in­cluded le­gal­iz­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants, though it didn’t of­fer a spe­cial path­way to cit­i­zen­ship.

Rep. Luis V. Gu­tier­rez, an Illi­nois Demo­crat who has been fight­ing for years for a le­gal­iza­tion bill, said he trusts Mr. Boehner’s re­marks to his home-state Ro­tary Club more than his rhetoric in Wash­ing­ton.

“I will al­ways be­lieve a man who’s home, in fa­mil­iar, com­fort­able, safe sur­round­ings,” said Mr. Gu­tier­rez. “It demon­strates a pri­or­ity that ex­ists within the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship. They re­ally want to get this done.”

Mr. Boehner has said he will move leg­is­la­tion only in pieces. He has re­jected the Se­nate’s ap­proach, which com­bined le­gal­iza­tion, stiffer en­force­ment and a rewrite of the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem into one mas­sive bill.

Mr. Boehner also has said he will not vi­o­late the “Hastert rule,” named for for­mer House Speaker J. Den­nis Hastert, who re­fused to bring up bills that didn’t have at least a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­can law­mak­ers on board. Mr. Boehner has bro­ken that rule but said he will ad­here to it on im­mi­gra­tion.

If he holds firm to the Hastert rule, op­po­nents say, no im­mi­gra­tion bill will be passed.

Yet they fear Mr. Boehner will try to or­ches­trate some votes by at­tach­ing im­mi­gra­tion pro­vi­sions to other bills.

“At this point, I don’t think it ac­tu­ally hap­pens but I am com­pletely con­vinced they are look­ing for and creat­ing ve­hi­cles,” said Mr. King. “I’m com­pletely con­vinced of that.”

One op­tion would be to add to the de­fense pol­icy bill a le­gal­iza­tion pro­vi­sion for young il­le­gal im­mi­grants who agree to join the mil­i­tary.

Democrats have per­son­ally chal­lenged Mr. Boehner on the is­sue.

“It’s time for John — he’s a good man, John Boehner — to stand up and other Repub­li­cans to stand up,” Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den said at a Cinco de Mayo cel­e­bra­tion Mon­day. “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.”

Mr. Boehner’s vot­ing record on im­mi­gra­tion puts him with the more lib­eral wing of the Repub­li­can Party.

He was one of just 17 Repub­li­cans to vote against a 2005 bill that would have im­posed stiffer penal­ties against il­le­gal im­mi­grants and those who aid them.

At the time, Mr. Boehner said he ob­jected to E-Ver­ify, the na­tional elec­tronic sys­tem to check whether work­ers are in the coun­try legally. E-Ver­ify is vol­un­tary, and Mr. Boehner said he felt manda­tory use would be too bur­den­some for busi­nesses.

Two years ago, ad­vo­cates of an im­mi­gra­tion crack­down ac­cused Mr. Boehner of block­ing a vote on a stand-alone E-Ver­ify bill.

A spokesman for Mr. Boehner now says the speaker would sup­port some form of elec­tronic ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

House Speaker John A. Boehner says he was jok­ing when he said in Ohio that Repub­li­cans don’t have the po­lit­i­cal courage to tackle im­mi­gra­tion re­form this year. In Wash­ing­ton, he said Repub­li­cans don’t trust Pres­i­dent Obama to en­force any im­mi­gra­tion rules.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.