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Boehner's big immigration decision

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  • Boehner's big immigration decision

    Boehner's big immigration decision

    By Russell Berman - 05/19/14 06:00 AM ED

    Republican and Democratic advocates see one final, long-shot chance to pass immigration reform this summer, and its fate rests with a Speaker stuck between his party’s resistance and his search for a career-defining legacy.

    House lawmakers writing immigration proposals say Republican leaders haven’t told them if they plan to hold a vote on immigration legislation before the August recess, which both sides see as the deadline for action in this Congress.
    Boehner clearly wants to overhaul the immigration system, but to revive the issue, he will have to untangle knots he tied during the past year.

    First, he ruled out the Senate’s “comprehensive” bill and said no House bill would get a vote absent support from a majority of Republicans. Then he announced that instead of a single, wide-ranging bill, the House would take a “step-by-step” approach, with reform embodied in several separate bills that could not be reconciled with the Senate proposal.

    Yet these practical or procedural hurdles may not be Boehner’s biggest challenge. The highest bar to clear may be an issue of trust, specifically trust of President Obama.

    Since February, the Speaker has said legislation cannot proceed until Republicans can trust the administration to enforce any new laws Congress passes.

    It is a seemingly impossible standard for a president reviled by a majority of Republican lawmakers. Even stalwart advocates of immigration reform see scant chance of Obama meeting it.

    “Nobody trusts the president, and that’s just the reality,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), a Republican who has written a bill that beefs up border security and offers a path to legal status for illegal immigrants. “Can the president re-establish his credibility in the next two months with the House, with the American people or with our allies? No. I think he can hopefully not make it worse.”

    Boehner has not said how Obama could restore trust among Republicans who have watched angrily as he has repeatedly delayed parts of the healthcare law without congressional approval. Aides say, however, that he could begin by working with GOP members on some of their other priorities, such as the Skills Act, which the House passed to overhaul federal job-training programs.

    A House GOP leadership aide said Obama could also help his cause by publicly ruling out unilateral action to halt deportations and by promising to enforce any new immigration law fully in the way Congress intended.

    “Would it be helpful? Yes. Will it be enough? No,” Diaz-Balart said.

    Diaz-Balart’s solution to the dilemma is to write legislation that would “hold the administration accountable” so it cannot ignore requirements to enforce border security. He would not give specifics, but his provisions would probably include a trigger based on a proposal agreed to last year that would revoke legal status for immigrants after five years if an employer E-Verify program were not in place.

    Despite his emphasis on trust, Boehner has sent mixed signals that have confused supporters and foes about his intentions. He reportedly told a group of donors he was “hell-bent” on passing a law this year, mocked Republicans for their resistance, and then assured his House colleagues there is no “secret conspiracy” to ram an overhaul through.

    Further confusion was engendered last week when White House aide and Obama family friend Valerie Jarrett was quoted as telling a forum in Las Vegas on Thursday that, on reform, “We have a commitment from Speaker Boehner, who’s very frustrated with his caucus.”

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    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."