On February 6, Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican representative from Ohio, made his thoughts on the reform of U.S. policy on immigration known. Just one week after indicating that House Republicans would pursue an overhaul of the country’s immigration laws, Boehner has cast doubt on prospects for any policy change, at least this year.
Immigration legislation may be a top priority for the Obama administration, but conservative Republicans believe it best to pursue reform next year, when the party may also control the Senate in addition to the House of Representatives. For now, until midterm elections recast party majorities, the Democrats have a 55-to-45 advantage in the upper house, but the party will be defending numerous seats when voters go to the ballot box this November, including ones in Republican-leaning states.
According to Boehner, the problem is the country’s leadership, meaning President Barack Obama. It’s not that immigration is an issue that can go untended: “As you all know, for the last 15 months, I’ve talked about the need to get immigration reform done,” the speaker told reporters during a Thursday news conference. “This is an important issue in our country. It’s been kicked around forever, and it needs to be dealt with.”
More precisely, Boehner believes Americans do not trust that reform will be implemented as intended because of how the president has pushed his domestic agenda. “The president seems to change the health care law on a whim, whenever he likes,” he said, referring to several alterations the administration made to the Affordable Care Act last year.
“Now, he is running around the country telling everyone he’s going to keep acting on his own. He keeps talking about his phone and his pen,” said Boehner of the president. In late January, hours ahead of his State of the Union address, Obama told his cabinet: “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” His pronouncement reflects a reality of the American political system — that partisanship is guiding political action and that the political environment has resulted in a stalemate in Washington.
However, Republicans did signal their intention to address the problems with the American immigration system earlier this year. During his State of the Union address, Obama issued a call for reform. “If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. … So let’s get immigration reform done this year.”
When Obama mentioned immigration reform, the Republican leadership clapped, while the party’s rank-and-file members sat silently.
The GOP rebuttal to the president’s January 28 speech also addressed immigration. House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington said it was “time to honor our history of legal immigration.” She said the Republican Party is “working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world.”
House Republicans are not in agreement about immigration. Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, has organized a movement in opposition to the GOP leadership’s immigration efforts. “The problem, however, is not limited to one of trust,” he said in a recent press release. “Even if the President could be trusted, the Senate Democrat plan he embraces would deliver a hammer blow to working Americans. The President’s plan doubles the flow of immigrant workers to compete against unemployed Americans and triples the number of mostly lesser-skilled permanent immigrants granted legal residency over the next decade.”
The New York Times reports that many conservative groups have called for a complete repopulation of Republican leadership, arguing that Boehner’s push for comprehensive immigration legislation should cost him his job. As a result, any stance House Republicans take on immigration in the next few months could be highly influential on the coming midterm elections.
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