Paul Ryan’s Comments On The Likelihood Of Immigration Reform Simply Reflect Political Realty

Paul Ryan's admission that immigration reform will not happen as long as Barack Obama is President simply reflects the reality of immigration politics in Congress.

Paul Ryan Speaker

As Steven Taylor has noted, Paul Ryan made the rounds of the Sunday morning political chat shows today to talk about his new role as Speaker of the House and made some news with his assertion that he doesn’t believe that the Republicans in Congress can work with President Obama on comprehensive immigration reform, a position that appears to rule out any such reform before the next President takes office:

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan on Sunday ruled out working with President Barack Obama on overhauling U.S. immigration policy, saying it would be “a ridiculous notion” to pursue legislation because Obama cannot be trusted on the issue.

Republicans have fought Obama’s unilateral steps that bypassed a gridlocked Congress to try to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.

Obama’s executive orders, announced last November but put on hold by the courts, would let up to 4.7 million illegal immigrants stay without threat of deportation. It was aimed mainly at helping 4.4 million people whose children are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

The immigration issue has driven a wedge between Hispanics, an increasingly important voting bloc, and Republicans, many of whom take a hard line on illegal immigration, to the benefit of Obama’s fellow Democrats. Most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States are Hispanic.

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican chosen as speaker on Thursday to replace the retiring John Boehner, said he would not try to advance comprehensive immigration legislation while Obama, whose term ends in January 2017, is president.

“I think it would be a ridiculous notion to try and work on an issue like this with a president we simply cannot trust on this issue,” Ryan said in an interview aired on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

“He tried to go it alone, circumventing the legislative process with his executive orders, so that is not in the cards. I think if we reach consensus on how best to achieve border and interior enforcement security, I think that’s fine,” Ryan added.

Ryan acknowledged that he promised the House Freedom Caucus, which includes the most conservative members of the House, not to bring up immigration reform legislation, and blamed Obama.

“This president tried to write the law himself,” Ryan told the CNN program “State of the Union”, accusing Obama of exceeding his constitutional powers. “Presidents don’t write laws. Congress writes laws.”

In the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, candidate Donald Trump and others have talked tough about illegal immigration. Trump has promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to deport all illegal immigrants already in the United States.

The Senate in 2013 voted to pass bipartisan legislation for the biggest overhaul of U.S. immigration laws in decades in a generation, but the measure failed to win House approval thanks to opposition by conservative Republicans.

Pablo Manriquez of the Democratic National Committee called Ryan’s comments “laughable” and said the Republicans are the ones who are untrustworthy on immigration reform.

“Two years ago, Republicans backed away from a comprehensive, bipartisan agreement that would have further strengthened our borders while requiring those who want to contribute to our country to register, undergo a full background check, pay a fine and pay taxes, and get in the back of the line for a path to citizenship,” Manriquez said.

Ryan’s predecessor, retiring Ohio Congressman John Boehner, echoed the new Speaker’s comments:

In an interview aired on “State of the Union”, Boehner said he regrets immigration reform legislation was not passed while he was speaker.

Asked about whether the right flank among House Republicans bore some responsibility for thwarting immigration legislation, Boehner said there was “probably some blame there as well.”

“Reforming our immigration system, securing our borders would be good for America. But unfortunately the president just kept poisoning the well – poisoning the well – to the point where it was impossible to put it on the floor of the House,” Boehner said.

This statements are really nothing new from Republican leadership, of course. Over the course of the past year, both Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have said that immigration reform is essentially impossible as long as President Obama is in office because, from the point of view of many members of their caucuses, he has acted in a manner that demonstrates that he cannot be trusted. The roots of this distrust, of course, can be found in the history of immigration reform during the entire Obama Administration. Notwithstanding the fact that his party had near complete control of Congress from the time he took office through the end of 2010, neither President Obama nor Congressional Democrats made any real effort to put an immigration reform plan of any kind forward in either the House or the Senate. It wasn’t until after the 2010 elections, when Republicans had gained control of the House, that any real effort was made by Senate Democrats to put together a bill that anyone could consider and that bill didn’t get a final vote in the Senate until June of 2013. In between that time, though, President Obama had already acted via executive action to enact the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that granted temporary relief from deportation for a select group of people who were in the country illegally because they had been brought here as young children. At that time, though, and at several points thereafter, the President made clear his position that the DACA program was essentially as far the law the Constitution allowed him to act and that the ball was now in Congress’s court in terms of any further reform of the nation’s immigration laws. The DACA program, and President Obama’s decision to essentially make an end run around Congress even before either body had acted on immigration, provoked some complaints from Republicans about executive overreach, but for the most part the response was muted. In no small part, this is likely because the program was announced in the midst of the 2012 election season and Republicans were reluctant to take too harsh a position against a program that was widely popular with Latino voters.

In the wake of DACA and the elections, though, it seemed as though we might actually see some action on immigration reform out of Congress with President Obama re-elected and the Democrats still in control of the Senate. There was initial success, of course, with the passage of a reform package in the Senate on somewhat bipartisan grounds, but the effort essentially stalled there. The House was reluctant from the start to take up the Senate bill, and the efforts by a group of House Republicans to put together their own bill fell apart in no small part because of the political forces inside the GOP made considering immigration reform a difficult process at best. In the end, despite numerous reports that the House would be taking up immigration reform at one time or another, in no small part in response to lobbying by a seemingly odd coalition of business and evangelical groups, there was no action in the House on immigration reform.

This brings us to the immediate aftermath of the 2014 elections, when in the wake of an overwhelming Republican victory President Obama made the somewhat odd decision to give Congress an ultimatum to act on immigration before he would utilize the executive authority he had previously conceded he did not have. As I argued at the time, to the extent it was actually designed or intended to get Congress to act, this ultimatum was both politically naive and somewhat unreasonable. First of all, the Presidents apparently belief that something as complicated and important as immigration reform should be dealt with by a lame duck Congress that was only going to be in session for six weeks after Election Day 2014 belies the idea that he actually intended to give Congress time to act. Had the 2014 elections not produced significant changes in the makeup of Congress, perhaps, this would have been a reasonable expectation, but that’s not what happened. The Republicans had just gained control of the Senate, and the idea that they were going to let a Senate and House made up of people who were either retiring or had been defeated for re-election was just absurd. In those circumstances, the comment at the time by Speaker John Boehner that Obama’s ultimatum and threat to undertake execution action would “poison the well” with the new Congress was completely understandable. If the President truly wanted Congress to act, he would have given the new Congress some reasonable amount of time to convene in January to consider the matter rather than pretending that the 2014 election had not completely changed things on Capitol Hill.  This is especially true given the fact that, up until the point that the President issued his ultimatum, he had said repeatedly that he lacked the authority to take any action beyond DACA itself.

As it turned out, President Obama didn’t even stick to his end of the year deadline and ended up announcing a new program that expanded on DACA to include, among others, illegal immigrants who have children who are American citizens by virtue of having been born here. The reaction from Republicans was about what you’d expected it be. Members of the House and Senate denounced it as an Executive Branch power grab, and while polling showed that Americans supported the substance of what the President proposed they were opposed to the idea of the President acting outside of Congressional authorization. Within less than a month after the program was announced, a number of lawsuits had been filed against the program, including one by Texas and sixteen other states that has proven to be a serious obstacle to implementation of the new program. The District Court Judge to which that case has been assigned almost immediately placed a stay on the implementation of the new program, and that stay has been upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. While the basis for the stay deals with the allegation that the Administration did not comply with the rule-making provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, both the District Court Judge and the Appeals Court Judges that have heard the matter have indicated deep skepticism about the legal merits of the Administration’s position. In any case, it’s clear at this point that the Texas lawsuit will be tied up in litigation for some time to come, and that the program the President announced in November 2014 will most likely not be implemented while he is in office.

All of this provides what I think is some much needed context for Speaker Ryan’s comments about the likelihood of immigration reform in Congress before the end of 2016. As it is, it’s unlikely that any Congress would take such a complicated subject in an election year. For one thing, both parties have strong political motivations to leave the issue unresolved so it can be used as a campaign issue in both the Presidential race and the races for House and Senate seats. For Republicans, there’s the need not to upset the delicate apple cart that is immigration politics inside the Republican coalition. For Democrats, there’s obviously more political advantage in leaving the issue unresolved and using it to motivate turnout among Latino voters than there is in passing legislation that Republicans would get at least some credit for. Add the events of last November into all of this, and the suggestion that the House may yet file its own lawsuit against the President’s actions, something that became seemingly more likely in the wake of recent Court action in the House lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act, and Ryan’s position makes sense.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s completely correct to say that Republicans could deal with immigration reform here and now, but that’s a statement that ignores political reality and also ignores the fact that, for most Americans except for those deeply invested in the issue on either side, immigration reform is a low priority issue. One may not like what Speaker Ryan said, but it’s reality and nobody should expect action on this issue until the next President takes office.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Borders and Immigration, Campaign 2016, Congress, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. But as I tried to point out in our conversation on my post: if Congress wants to constrain or alter the behavior of the executive, then passing legislation is the way to do it.

    As such, the notion that it is the executive’s fault that the legislature will not act is ridiculous.

  2. And the yes: the political reality is that immigration reform cannot pas the Congress, but that has a lot more to do with the current GOP than it does with Obama (heck, the GOP couldn’t get immigration reform passed when Bush wanted it and they controlled Congress).

  3. @Steven L. Taylor:

    There are bad actors on both sides here as far as I’m concerned. Congress for not dealing with this issue, and the President for yet again inappropriately expanding executive power. That being said, I think Ryan’s arguments do explain at least part of what’s going on. Based on the fact that, from their point of view, the President has stretched the boundaries of the discretion they have granted him it’s not entirely hard to understand why Republicans would not want to pass a law that would, not matter how they wrote it, give more discretion to the Executive Branch.

    Combine that with the fact, as I said, that this is clearly not a high priority issue among people likely to vote Republican, or the American public in general outside of those highly invested in immigration reform, and the reluctance to act is understandable.

  4. Also, I’d add that the incentive to pass legislation to “reign in” the President’s actions on immigration is significantly diminished as long as the Fifth Circuit stay remains in effect, and it doesn’t seem like that is going to be lifted any time soon.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Translation from the original Ryan:
    “The refusal of House Republicans to support the Rubio-Schumer bipartisan immigration bill is the fault of President Obama.”

  6. michael reynolds says:

    1) Nativist Republicans want a wall to keep out Mexicans.
    2) Money Republicans want a steady flow of undocumented (cheap and exploitable) workers.

    That’s why the GOP can’t take on immigration. The GOP has two entirely different positions.

  7. @Doug Mataconis: My fundamental point is that there is an incontrovertible way for the legislature to get the executive to behave the way it wants and that is to pass legislation. The Congress has failed to do so. How this can be blamed on the President is beyond me.

    It is policy-making 101.

    And this goes beyond the specific issues of pending judicial decisions.

  8. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Combine that with the fact, as I said, that this is clearly not a high priority issue among people likely to vote Republican

    But Immigration reform is a priority “among people likely to vote Republican.” They want walls and “more enforcement” rather than the “path to citizenship.” Indeed, Donald Trump is running on a platform promising “immigration reform” and the GOP electorate are eating it up.

    All this talk of “trust” is just a big screaming pile of BS. They trust the president all too well, trust him to work towards an agenda they just don’t want.

  9. @James Pearce:

    It’s just not a high priority issue for anyone beyond the activists. The fact that Democrats didn’t even try to act on immigration reform during the two years they controlled all of Congress and the White House seems to be at leas some indication of that.

  10. Gustopher says:

    If the Obama administration were to start going after the employers, rather than the immigrants, we would see immigration reform pretty quickly.

  11. JohnMcC says:

    Seems disingenuous to discuss Speaker Ryan’s remarks without referencing his history of being somewhat out-of-step with the nativist wing of his party. Congressman Steve King had proclaimed that he was not suited to lead the House R-partiers because of years of being soft on immigration. The so-called ‘Freedom Caucus’ was the audience that Congressman Ryan had in mind with this remark, IMHO. (Confession: I never, ever watch the Sunday “news” shows so missed the context of the discussion.)

    http://www.politico.com/story/2015/10/paul-ryan-speaker-immigration-214860

  12. JohnMcC says:

    @Gustopher: Looked @ Congressman Ryan’s website prior to putting up my comment above and noticed that there is a neat little twist to the ’employer-sanctions’ paragraph r/t immigration. Stronger job-enforcement is advocated but without “Big Brother” oversight. Hummmm……

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Both sides. What cowardly crap.
    The GOP wouldn’t act, which left it to Obama to act. Which the GOP is using as an excuse to continue not to act.
    Nothing the Congress started on would take effect until Obama is gone.
    Lack of immigration reform is on the Republicans.
    Grow a pair and stop this both sides do it nonsense.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    @Doug Mataconis: You are certainly correct that the Administration did not have a high priority on immigration reform until roughly the ’14 election season. This did not escape the port-side-watch in our politics of course and considerable liberal and hispanic uproar resulted (although there were significant other issues that actually did have a claim on White House attention — let me try to recall…). I’m sure you noticed, eh? Now as the Presidential election draws near the issue becomes more important.

    As George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have said, ‘the power of accurate observation is called cynicism by those who have not got it.’

  15. @C. Clavin:

    Please tell me everything Democrats did regarding immigration reform during the time they controlled both Houses of Congress from the 2006 elections through the 2010 elections, and what they did when they controlled Congress and the White House from January 20, 2009 through December 31, 2010.

    This wasn’t any more of a priority issue for them than it is for the GOP. It’s more advantageous for them to be able to use it as a partisan cudgel to get Latino voters to the polls.

    For their own reasons, the GOP also does not have many reasons to address this issue to the exclusion of, or in addition to, others that come before Congress.

    Since I support immigration reform, I’d like to say that reality is different, but it’s not.

  16. Hal_10000 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Ah, yes. Your eternal defense of the Democrats, “Cut it out with this both sides do it stuff!” As Doug points out, the Democrats love having this is an issue. They’ve sat on this issue for the same 30 years the Republicans have.

    That having been said, Ryan’s comments translate to: “my party has the mads about this.”

  17. steve says:

    You are correct that immigration was always a bit down on Obama’s list of priorities. To be fair, the Dems are not united on this. He would have needed some GOP support since the Dems only held 60 seats, and if you will remember correctly they only held those 60 for about 20 months (Scott Brown anyone?). However, the Senate actually did manage to pass a bill, well after some of Obama’s unilateral actions. It was the radicals in the House that stopped it. Obama being POTUS doesn’t matter. As long as the Freedom Cocks exist, we won’t see immigration reform. We might see bills aimed at building a wall, but not much beyond that.

    Steve

  18. stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:”

    I’ll point out the Democrats had “full control of Congress” for only four months-and 72 voting days- in 2009. That was the only time they had a filibuster proof 60 vote Senate majority. During that time, they did do other things.But it’s a fallacy to say the Democrats “controlled Congress” for four years.

  19. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The fact that Democrats didn’t even try to act on immigration reform during the two years they controlled all of Congress and the White House seems to be at leas some indication of that.

    I’ve always chalked that up to prioritizing the passage of ACA. They probably knew there would be a short window to get some things done before total opposition set in.

    On immigration specifically, Obama tried to win Republican trust by enforcing the existing laws more strenuously than his predecessors. It didn’t buy him any good faith or cooperation, nor did it prevent a goofball like Trump riding the issue all the way to the top of the polls.

  20. Grewgills says:

    Ryan acknowledged that he promised the House Freedom Caucus, which includes the most conservative members of the House, not to bring up immigration reform legislation, and blamed Obama.

    That would be a startling non sequitur coming from almost anyone else.

    House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan on Sunday ruled out working with President Barack Obama on overhauling U.S. immigration policy

    The first part of that sentence can stand on its own and would remain accurate for any democratic president with this congress.

  21. Hal_10000 says:

    @stonetools:

    The had majorities in both houses for four years. They could have passed a bill in the House (granted, into a likely filibuster) but didn’t. In fact, they could have passed it under George W. Bush who probably would have signed it.

  22. al-Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    For their own reasons, the GOP also does not have many reasons to address this issue to the exclusion of, or in addition to, others that come before Congress.
    Since I support immigration reform, I’d like to say that reality is different, but it’s not.

    What else is Paul Ryan going to do but say, disingenuously to be polite, that Obama is to blame for this? Never mind that illegal immigration is at the lowest levels in years, Republicans are going to demagogue this issue all the way to November 2016.

    Over a year ago Senators Rubio and Schumer hashed out a joint proposal to address immigration reform however Republicans, in particular, House Republicans wanted no part of it, i.e Obama is to blame.

  23. stonetools says:

    @Hal_10000:

    The point is that their majorities would have meant something in terms of actually enacting a law for only a brief time(and no, I don’t think GWB would have signed a law over what would have been the vociferous objections of the Republican base).

  24. Any assessment of what the Dems did, or did not, do in Congress one has to keep in mind the following:

    1) Anything passed by the Dems in the House would have been filibustered by the Reps in the Senate (and the Dems only controlled 60 vote for a limited time in Obama’s first term and were focused on the ACA at the time).

    2) It is the GOP that is making the most noise about immigration being a problem and yet have not done anything to deal with the issue.

    (Again: President Bush wanted immigration reform, but in a form that currently is anathema to the GOP and was rejected by them then).

    This is not a “both sides do it” situation.

    Also: I fully accept the political reality that immigration reform is not going to be on the agenda. The part of this whole thing I find silly–and was why I posted what I originally posted–is the notion that the reason we can’t have immigration reform is because Obama is “untrustworthy” on the topic. This is simply absurd. Further, it ignores a basic truth: if the legislature wants legislation it needs to legislate–not blame the executive.

  25. al-Ameda says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Also: I fully accept the political reality that immigration reform is not going to be on the agenda. The part of this whole thing I find silly–and was why I posted what I originally posted–is the notion that the reason we can’t have immigration reform is because Obama is “untrustworthy” on the topic. This is simply absurd. Further, it ignores a basic truth: if the legislature wants legislation it needs to legislate–not blame the executive.

    Dead on.
    Exactly right.

  26. stonetools says:

    The “both sides do it” is strong with the Doug one. I would just say about any objective observer would say that it is the Republicans why immigration reform has not passed. Doug finds a way to blame Obama!

    Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Would you say “there were bad actors on both sides” there, too?
    Prediction: there will not be immigration reform until the Democrats once again gain control of both Houses of Congress and there is a Democratic president.

  27. An Interested Party says:

    This is simply absurd. Further, it ignores a basic truth…

    Both apply to Paul Ryan quite frequently so it is little wonder that both should apply to him regarding this issue…

  28. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m not sure that Doug actually believes what he’s saying. I think he’s auditioning for some kind of talking head gig someplace.

  29. steve s says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    There are bad actors on both sides here as far as I’m concerned.

    Every now and then, I think, “C. Clavin, stop being a repetitious jerk, ease off on Doug.” And then Doug writes some tripe like this, where he’s unable to just state the blatantly obvious truth.

  30. Tillman says:

    You know what really undermines these apologetics of yours? Boehner was saying they couldn’t trust the president in February of 2014 long before any of the Obama shenanigans you (and Boehner and McConnell in your earlier links) list as causes for the breakdown of trust. As the Washington Post reports it:

    Aides emphasized that Boehner remains committed to immigration reform and said he raised concerns about Obama because they had emerged as a consensus during the retreat. [emphasis mine] But his remarks drew rebukes from advocacy groups frustrated by the verbal zigzags of a speaker who has spent 15 months calling immigration a top priority while refusing to bring any legislation to the House floor.

    The White House and congressional Democrats were left searching for clues Thursday to determine whether Boehner was caving in the face of conservative opposition or merely trying to manage an unruly caucus to avoid a full-scale revolt.

    So you’re accepting messaging the Republican House crafted during a conference retreat (I think my fingerprints burned off typing a link to Politico) in late January 2014, after which Boehner expressed in early February his “distrust” of the president.

    Did they distrust him because of his antics after the 2014 midterms, or did they distrust him before?

  31. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Based on the fact that, from their point of view, the President has stretched the boundaries of the discretion they have granted him it’s not entirely hard to understand why Republicans would not want to pass a law that would, not matter how they wrote it, give more discretion to the Executive Branch.

    Total B.S. Total, total garbage. The Republicans had no problem, none at all with expanded executive power when Bush was president (remember the “unitary executive theory”? Yeah, neither did they as soon as Obama took office.

  32. Tillman says:

    @Tillman: In case the point needs to be stated outright, you crafted a narrative in your post whereby Republicans’ distrust of Obama has validity. They expressed their distrust this year as opposed to last so that Obama’s actions in late November 2014 would validate the authenticity of Republican claims of bad faith. If this distrust existed as a talking point going back to February of 2014 (and it did), it necessarily has to be a reaction to the fallout from the House not considering the Senate’s negotiated bill, not anything Obama did. Unless you can think of something Obama did in late 2013 to spur this distrust? I can think of the October 2013 shutdown of the government over defunding Obamacare, but that’s closer to what Republican congressmen were doing rather than the president.

    Your analysis will become shoddy if you don’t get your history right. Context matters, as you write, but you need proper context which isn’t the kind crafted by political memory. With proper context, Ryan’s rationale for not taking up immigration reform is so much sleight of hand rather than being remarks we should accept as nuanced truth.

  33. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Please tell me everything Democrats did regarding immigration reform during the time they controlled both Houses of Congress from the 2006 elections through the 2010 elections, and what they did when they controlled Congress and the White House from January 20, 2009 through December 31, 2010.”

    Right back atcha, Doug. Please tell us what the GOP when they were riding far higher, from 9/11 until Katrina.

  34. Barry,

    As I said, neither party has done anything on this issue, nor are the likely to, because it is not a high enough priority issue.