In an abrupt switch from his months of work to bring immigration reform back from life support, Speaker John Boehner told reporters today that the issue cannot move forward until President Obama proves he can be a trustworthy partner to implement the law as written.
“There’s 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,” Boehner said.
The change in tack comes after rank-and-file members pushed hard against action on the issue this year when immigration “principles” were unveiled at a retreat last week and top immigration hawks had begun to discuss how they could thwart Boehner in his march to bring the issue to the floor.
In the hours before Boehner made his surprise announcement, lawmakers and aides had told Breitbart News that early discussions had begun about whether to force a special leadership election in the event Boehner moved forward with immigration legislation.
“It’s going to require blood if this happens,” one GOP member said.
At the press conference where he made his surprise announcement, Boehner said Obama has exacerbated the distrust on the issue with his recent vows to act with or without Congress.
“The American people, including many of my members, do not believe that the reform that we’re talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be. The President seems to change the health care law on a whim, whenever he likes. Now he’s running around the country telling everyone that he’s going to keep acting on his own. He keeps talking about his phone and his pen. And he’s feeding more distrust about whether he’s committed to the rule of law,” Boehner said.
The Ohio Republican didn’t fully close the door, saying Obama could work with Republicans to help enact some of their priority bills to rebuild trust and that he would continue to discuss the matter with his conference.
“I’m going to continue to talk to my members about how to move forward, but the president is going to have to do his part as well,” Boehner said.
And anti-amnesty activists were not letting down their guard. “Unfortunately since we know that since the Republican leadership wants to push amnesty… we can’t trust these declarations,” said Rosemary Jenks, the director of government relations for NumbersUSA.
Prior to putting the brakes on immigration reform, Boehner had become increasingly isolated in his strong push for action.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday that it’s unlikely any legislation could be enacted this year, a major blow, and GOP and conservative pundits had repeatedly questioned whether moving forward made any political sense.
GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, loudly complained that Obama was not a trustworthy partner when Boehner unveiled his immigration “principles” at a retreat in Cambridge, Maryland last week.
In the days after the retreat, Boehner continued to move forward, issuing promotional materials about the principles. Rep. Jeff Denham of California, a top proponent for moving on immigration, told Breitbart News that leadership wanted to bring legislation to the floor as soon as possible.
With Boehner continuing to march forward, top immigration hawks had begun to organize much more dramatic responses to try to head him off.
“There has been talk among House Members about forcing new leadership elections in the House to include a new Speaker if they try to bring an immigration bill to the floor this year,” a senior GOP aide said Wednesday. The GOP member and two other aides said such discussions had occurred among House Republicans.
“I think it should cost him his speakership,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) told Roll Call about if Boehner brought immigration to the floor in 2014.
Boehner survived a mutiny in early 2013 after the fiscal cliff showdown. But it is unclear how widespread the discussions about challenging Boehner over immigration were – several lawmakers who were part of the earlier coup attempt said they hadn’t heard anything about any such effort relating to immigration.