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John Boehner: Immigration Reform Unlikely Because Republicans Don’t Trust The President

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As I’ve noted here several times, the fate of immigration reform in the House of Representatives seems to change on an almost daily basis. In the immediate aftermath of the Senate’s passage of its own comprehensive immigration package,  it was made clear that the Senate bill was essential dead on arrival in the House and that the House would be pursuing its own agenda on the issue, principally involving a more piecemeal approach to the subject rather than one big bill like the Senate produced. Even that effort seemed doomed to failure, however, as more and more members of the coalition of House Republicans, which was small to begin with, began to break away from the group trying to put together some kind of immigration package. By the time the 2013 elections were over, it seemed safe to say that immigration reform was dead, at least for the year and seemingly all the way through the 2014 elections, despite the efforts of business groups tied to the GOP to move it forward. More recently, though, we’ve seen some signs that there might actually be a possibility for reform passing in some form before the midterms. Just last month, for example, John Boehner was reported as being on board with the idea of getting a reform package through the House and, last week, Boehner and the rest of the House leadership released a set of principles for reform as part of an effort to pitch the idea to the GOP Caucus as a whole.

Today, however, Boehner once again seemed to throw cold water on the whole idea of passing a reform package at all before the end of the current Congress, or indeed before Barack Obamhas a leaves office:

House Speaker John Boehner put a big dent in any remaining hope for immigration reform this year at his Thursday morning presser.

“One of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust,” Boehner said. “The American people, including many of my members, don’t trust that the reform that we’re talking about would be implemented as it’s intended to be.”

Saying that President Obama makes changes to the Affordable Care Act “on a whim, whenever he likes,” the speaker said he and his caucus harbor “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.”

My takeaway from Boehner’s remarks here isn’t so much that he’s giving up on the idea of reform. Indeed, like pretty much all Republican insiders it seems quite clear that he and the rest of the House GOP leadership supports the idea behind the principles they released last week and would like to find a way to get a package through the House while keeping the GOP Caucus from rebelling in a midterm election year. What we’re seeing here is quite simply a reflection of the reaction that the Leadership’s immigration pitch last week got from Republican members of the House, including not only Tea Party supporters and hard core conservatives, but also more mainline Republicans who are presently dealing with the threat of more conservative challengers coming after them in a primary election should they come out for something that even comes close to constituting whatever it is that reform opponents on the right consider to be “amnesty.” Much as they were during the shutdown crisis in October, the House leadership is hamstrung by a caucus that, for better or worse, doesn’t trust the President and there simply isn’t going to be much room for a deal of any kind on a hot button issue like immigration if there isn’t trust of the opposing side to begin with.

Many people will dismiss Boehner’s comments regrading the reasons for this distrust as nothing but pure partisanship, of course. To some degree, there’s merit in this position given the fact that the last five years of the Obama Presidency have seen conservative rise to a level of paranoia and fear regarding a sitting President that has often bordered on the purely irrational. To the extent that the distrust is coming from this paranoia, there’s really not much the White House or the House leadership can do to quell it. The only question is whether the group of Republicans motivated by this paranoia is powerful enough to completely block any action at all.

At the same time, though, there has been enough action taken by the Executive Branch that strikes me as being good reason for Members of Congress to wonder just how far an Obama Administration might go in using Executive Branch authority to implement whatever kind of immigration reform Congress might pass. Whether its the many waivers that have been granted under the Affordable Care Act, the spying and metadata programs revealed by the leaks coming from Edward Snowden, the “kill lists” associated with the U.S. drone program, or the President’s own vow to use Executive authority to act where Congress refuses to, it’s certainly the case that this President has been aggressive of late in utilizing the authority that being President grants him. In these cases and others, there is plenty of reason to be concerned about the idea of a President essentially acting on his own, essentially unchecked by Congress, to implement policy on controversial subjects and Members are arguably justifiably concerned that similar assertions of authority would be used to take an end run around whatever limits Congress might try to impose in a new law.

When it comes to this second group, it strikes me that the solution lies in Congress recognizing its own role in the Executive Branch’s assumption of more and more unchecked authority in a wide range of policy areas. While many on the right won’t acknowledge it outright, the truth of the matter is that much of the expansion in Presidential power that has taken place has happened with the complete acquisecence of Congress. Indeed, in most cases all the Presidents like Barack Obama and those who have come before him have done is exercise the authority that Congress has granted to them, in most cases because it’s easier to write a law that grants sweeping authority to the President and Executive Agencies than it is to be more specific about policy. In other cases, most specifically foreign policy, it’s quite simply been the case that Congress doesn’t want to take on the Constitutional responsibilities that were granted to it, and unwilling to call out the President when he steps out of bounds.  That’s why the War Powers Act, passed over a Presidential veto in 1972 as a supposed response to the excesses of the Vietnam War, has been a dead letter from the moment it became law. In other words, if Congress wants to find the reason why Presidents have assumed more and more authority over the decades, they need do nothing more than look in a mirror. If they want to do something about it, they need to craft legislation that doesn’t given Presidents unchecked authority and confers on Congress the responsibilities the Founders intended.

In the end, though, the reason for why Republicans don’t trust the President hardly matter. It is a reality of our current politics and it makes getting anything big accomplished in Congress, whether its immigration reform, tax reform, or whatnot, next to impossible. How and when that trust can be reestablished is a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    The obligatory disingenuous remarks by Boehner.

    The reality is that his own House Republican delegation wants no part of the “bipartisan” work that guys like Rubio have been working on.

    Boehner might as well move to adjourn The House until the 2014 mid-term elections are on the books. A case can be made that Boehner is the worst House Speaker in the post Vietnam War era.

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  2. James Pearce says:

    Trust is not necessary. The House GOP would trust McCain or Romney without much effort, or much cause. Boehner would have us think Obama has earned the mistrust….which is funny. He’s given liberals plenty of reason not to trust him, but conservatives?

    They never trusted him to begin with.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 0

  3. David M says:

    It’s 2014, and the new president will be sworn in January 2017. Any immigration law will be phased in over several years, so it probably won’t be fully implemented until after the next president takes office. Even something passed this year won’t take effect immediately. Remind me again why this argument would be taken seriously?

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    Many people will dismiss Boehner’s comments regrading (sic) the reasons for this distrust as nothing but pure partisanship, of course. To some degree, there’s merit in this position…

    …a level of paranoia and fear regarding a sitting President that has often bordered on the purely irrational.

    Doug Mataconis, master of understatement.

    In the end, though, the reason for why Republicans don’t trust the President hardly matter.

    But of course they matter. If the distrust is because Obama has been untrustworthy, the proper response by the electorate is to elect a different president. Something they will certainly do at the next opportunity anyway. If the problem is that the Republicans in congress are paranoids who’ve formed a positive feedback loop with their base and the Conservative Entertainment Complex and all three driven together off a cliff into irrationality, the proper response is for independents and moderate Republicans (James? Doug?) to recognize the situation for what it is and stop voting for Republicans.

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  5. Rafer Janders says:

    How and when that trust can be reestablished is a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to.

    I have no doubt they’ll reestablish that trust the minute we next elect a Republican president. So handy about 2032, I’d say.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0

  6. Rafer Janders says:

    How and when that trust can be reestablished is a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to.

    That’s a nonsense statement. In actual fact, Republicans don’t “distrust” President Obama — they pretend to, sure, but the adults in the leadership know perfectly well that Barack Obama is one of the most moderate, reasonable, stable guys to be in national politics the last sixty years. So there’s two options (i) they trust him, but pretend not to in order to exploit a political advantage, or (ii) they’re raving paranoids.

    I’d say a bit of (i) and (ii), actually. In that case, it’s not a matter of “reestablishing trust” because if (i), the trust was never actually lost, and if (ii), you actually can’t reestablish trust with a paranoid with a shaky grip on reality.

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  7. superdestroyer says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Rubio is so stupid he cannot explain to anyone why the Republicans should support amnesty. Rubio just knows that when the big money donors say jump, he had better jump.

    What pro-amnesty Republicans like Rubio cannot answer is why should the Republicans support a proposal that will be a huge win for the Democrats, turn the U.S. into a one party state, and lower the standard of living of many of the middle class whites who actually vote for Republicans.

    Maybe Boehner has finally realized that it does no good to keep spitting in the face of those middle class whites who may actually vote for a Republican.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Doug… You can’t really believe this malarkey.
    It’s the excuse du jour for not being able to handle his caucus.
    Nothing more.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  9. superdestroyer says:

    @David M:

    The chance that the next president will be a Democrat is overwhelming. It is just not President Obama that cannot be trust but the entire Democratic establishment cannot be trust. Any Repubican who trust the Democrats to keep a deal will soon be out of office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  10. David M says:

    Even if they don’t trust any Democratic President, why does that mean they shouldn’t pass immigration reform? Wouldn’t there be more opportunities for “executive shenanigans” in the current system that everyone agrees is FUBAR? How does reform make that problem worse?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. C. Clavin says:

    This is f’ing rich.
    Kathy McMorris whatshername lies in the Republic response to the SOTU.
    Republicans spend two days lying about the CBO report.
    But Obama isn’t to be trusted.
    And then Doug parrots the talking point.
    Too f’ing funny.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 42 Thumb down 4

  12. David M says:

    @C. Clavin:

    True, nothing compares to the modern Republican party for blatant and obvious dishonesty.

    This is probably just projection by the GOP, they have proven they can’t be trusted and assume the Democrats are the same.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  13. David M says:

    The GOP still claims that Obamacare doesn’t reduce the deficit, something that has never been true, and has been an obvious zombie lie for several years. They did it with the CBO report from yesterday. I can’t think of a remotely similar claim made by the Democrats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  14. bk says:

    @superdestroyer:

    It is just not President Obama that cannot be trust but the entire Democratic establishment cannot be trust. Any Repubican who trust the Democrats to keep a deal will soon be out of office.

    Grammar – how does it work?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @C. Clavin:

    All they’ve got is lies. What’s the alternative? Telling the truth? Here’s what that would look like:

    “Our policies will be tailored to first aggravate then exploit the fears of older, whiter Americans. We will play on their unreconstructed racism, their homophobia, their ignorance of science and their inchoate fear of the future to form a loyal base of paranoid tribalists who will then be enlisted in supporting the interests of the super rich who will continue to grind the working man down while diverting blame to minorities.”

    But that’s not what you say out loud. What you say out loud is, “Obama is a tyrant!”

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  16. Stonetools says:

    The Republicans met on the day Obama was first inaugurated and decided that they would stick together and never pass any legislation proposed by Obama. So far this is what they have done, absent overwhelming public pressure. They have made it clear that they will ruin the American economy in order to deny Obama legislative success.So blocking immigration is of a piece with everything they have done since a black man was elected President.
    I would add too the element of meanness. Hell, today they’ve screwed over millions of unemployed Americans for no reason other than just meanness , as far as I can tell. The Republican legislative strategy can be summed up in one sentence: serve the rich, kick the poors, keep down the blacks, and keep out the browns. It’s a politics of meanness, really, more than paranoia or mistrust.

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  17. humanoid.panda says:

    @bk: It doesn’t in a one party state.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. gVOR08 says:

    Doug – Kudos for saying and headlining this that Boehner said Republicans don’t trust the President. Most of our lazy, and supposedly liberal, press would have just taken Boehner at face value and stenographed, “Republicans don’t trust Obama.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. JoshB says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I wouldn’t say she blatantly lied but rather got just enough information to confirm what she wanted to here and ran with it. The most basic digging could prove her wrong, but frankly she didn’t care if the story was true.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Shorter Doug:

    Much as they were during the shutdown crisis in October, the House leadership is hamstrung by a caucus that, for better or worse, doesn’t trust a President who doesn’t know his place.

    FTFY Doug. Much shorter, more succinct and accurate. Glad to be of help. You’ll get the bill in the mail.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. Matt Bernius says:

    @al-Ameda:

    A case can be made that Boehner is the worst House Speaker in the post Vietnam War era

    Agreed, but I’m not sure if that tells the entire story or is particularly fair to Boehner. It seems to me that in the current environment, anyone — or rather any current Republican member of Congress — would do pretty much the same job.

    Much of the foundation for the ongoing Republican control of the House also robs the Speaker of much of his ability to control his own members. Further the Republicans took a number of steps post 2010 that further gutted the Speaker’s ability to work intraparty deals (i.e. getting rid of “obvious” ear marks).

    Looking back over the last few decades, has there ever been a Congressional majority who is so at odds with it’s own leadership?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JoshB:that’s what is known as a lie of omission. And it is still a lie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  23. JoshB says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Good point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Matt Bernius: Looking back over the last few decades, has there ever been a Congressional majority who is so at odds with it’s own leadership governing?

    FTFY

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. mantis says:

    A more honest description:

    Republican Party overtaken by extremist anti-government sabatuers. Republican speaker has no control over caucus, blames Democratic president for his own failures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @JoshB:
    A lie of omission…or a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    The welfare queens known as red states don’t run their own exchanges…and Republicans rant on endlessly (Doug) about how bad Obamacare is. Then someone doesn’t use the exchange…gets f’ed in the process…and Republicans point to them and say…”there, see, I told you so…”
    It’s like the local TV stations that trumpet on oncoming storm and warn everyone to go right out and by bread and milk…then the TV station goes to a grocery store and does a story about how there is a bread and milk shortage and everyone is going to die.
    Moral of the story…don’t trust Republicans or your local TV station.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  27. C. Clavin says:

    Meanwhile we added 113,000 jobs, November and December were revised upwards by over 30,000 jobs…but yet again the Public Sector slashed 12,000 jobs.
    A long-term consistent trend that Doug has ignored completely. How’s that shrinking Government working for you Doug?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  28. sam says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    … I’m not sure if that tells the entire story or is particularly fair to Boehner. It seems to me that in the current environment, anyone — or rather any current Republican member of Congress — would do pretty much the same job.

    Word. When a significant portion of your caucus acts like this tea party, there ain’t a helluva lot you can do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. sam says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Maybe Boehner has finally realized that it does no good to keep spitting in the face of those middle class whites who may actually vote for a Republican.

    Ah, yes, those folks. The ones Charlie Cook referred to as the “pre-dead”. The GOP has a great future with that crowd as its base.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Tyrell says:

    The moderate, centrist Republicans need to unite and work with the moderate, centrist Democrats. This calls for pragmatism, a get things done work ethic where personal interests take a back seat. This type of thing was common years ago when the leaders were also statesmen. They got together and got things done.
    Leaders of the past: Dirksen, Mansfield, Fulbright, Baker, Russell, Ervin, Humphrey, Johnson, O’Neill. Long, Talmadge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  31. Matt Bernius says:

    @sam:

    When a significant portion of your caucus acts like this tea party, there ain’t a helluva lot you can do.

    This misses the problem.

    The amount of “Tea Party” members in the House is actually pretty low. Of 232 Republicans, only 48 belong to the Tea Party Caucus. Granted, if we switch from talking about Tea Party to Conservatives, then the number jumps. The Republican Study Committee — the defacto Conservative Caucus — has some 170 members. However, that’s not the best number to look at either since RSC members have crossed party lines before.

    This seems, as others have suggested, as much about primaries as anything else. Working with the President, especially during an election year, is a dangerous option when the nature of districts means your challenge is most likely going to come from your right (and the most activated portion of your base on the the district level).

    Without a doubt, there are some “true believers” in Congress. But to some degree, this is about “doing the will” of your constituents — or at least portion of one’s constituents who turn out for primaries (versus the general).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. al-Ameda says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Looking back over the last few decades, has there ever been a Congressional majority who is so at odds with it’s own leadership?

    You make good points.
    To answer your question, no, I don’t believe that we’ve seen this level of majority party dissension and dissatisfaction in the House in memory, and I include those wooly fractious Democratic Party days of the 70s too.

    It would have been very interesting if Boehner had decided to step down and let the GOP members decide if they wanted to go with someone like Eric Cantor. At least then we’d know if the problem resides with Boehner, or if it is wider than one-man-one-leader.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. Woody says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Spot on, and this is why Speaker Boehner is actually doing his job: by keeping immigration “in the conversation” he is giving his incumbent caucus maximum room to maneuver within their individual districts. The California Republican can tout her support for immigration reform. The Arkansas Republican can tout her opposition to immigration.

    An actual plan would be counter-productive! The GOP is not terribly interested in actual legislation, particularly legislation that potentially splits the social cons from the business cons.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  34. rudderpedals says:

    @sam:

    When a significant portion of your caucus acts like this tea party, there ain’t a helluva lot you can do.

    That’s a cop out. One thing he might do is clearly state that it’s time to chill on the tea party lunacy, that the Hastert Rule is hereby rescinded and bills will start getting passed when Mr Speaker and >=218 other members approve. Lots of other things would work too. He’s failed to lead the house.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. Barry says:

    Doug: “How and when that trust can be reestablished is a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to.”

    Doug, were you conscious when President Obama spent a year negotiating with the GOP over healthcare reform, and every time he gave them what they said would seal the deal, they broke their word?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  36. Barry says:

    @Matt Bernius: “The amount of “Tea Party” members in the House is actually pretty low. Of 232 Republicans, only 48 belong to the Tea Party Caucus. Granted, if we switch from talking about Tea Party to Conservatives, then the number jumps. The Republican Study Committee — the defacto Conservative Caucus — has some 170 members. However, that’s not the best number to look at either since RSC members have crossed party lines before.”

    If one counts the number of people scared of crossing the Tea Party, I’d expect that number to be sharply higher.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. sam says:

    @rudderpedals:

    That’s a cop out.

    Well, suppose I refine it: There ain’t a helluva lot you can do if you want to keep the Speakership. (Of course, I think this reflects even more poorly on him.)

    Matt says, “only 48 belong to the Tea Party Caucus” — and I submit that that is enough to torpedo anything that smacks of compromise.

    Does anybody here think Boehner is in control of his caucus? Debt limit vote is coming up. We’ll see.

    What Barry said.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. rudderpedals says:

    @sam: I meant to write that it’s a cop out on Boehner’s part, but the way it was written left it looking like I’m saying you’re excusing Boehner’s cop out. I shouldn’t have been so ambiguous, I apologize.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. sam says:

    Hey, no problem. I did read it as being directed at the Orange One.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  40. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Nothing has changed. This is not news.

    House Republicans are never going to pass immigration because while collectively it is in their interest for the party not to become seared in the mind of minorities and especially Latinos as the anti-minority party, it is not in their individual interest to actually stick their neck out, because the tea party and the other lunatics in the asylum will cut their head off. Thus, you get nothing.

    There will not be immigration reform until the Dems control both Congress and the Presidency. Probably in 2016. The beauty is that at that point, the bill will be further to the left that it is now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  41. superdestroyer says:

    @sam:

    And how would moving far to the left to attract blacks and Latinos work out for the Repubicans. Do you really think that the Republican Party will ever be able to outpander the Democrats for the votes of blacks, Latinos, public sector workers, academics, homosexuals, or jews?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. rudderpedals says:

    Incomplete, SD. One can’t really get into the guts of political pandering and not bring up the Batista era refugee’s preference for Republicans. The pander continues to support a ghastly un-killable embargo that hurts people here and there, hurts Fla workers,, and for something like 50 years has failed to remove Castro or undo the revolution.

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