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