This week, it became all too clear that House Republicans don't really want to address immigration reform in any meaningful way this year. And if the reform effort does wither on the vine, Republicans know just who to blame: themselves.
Ha, just kidding. They're going to blame President Obama.
A mere week after unveiling a list of immigration "principles" that the GOP would pursue, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that handling immigration this year would be "difficult," because many Republicans don't trust Obama.
"There's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws," he said. "And it's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."
Of course, a bipartisan immigration reform package has already passed the Senate, which includes an eye-popping $40 billion for border security. Obama has even signaled that he would be prepared to sign into law a more modest package, including one that bestowed only legal status — as opposed to citizenship — to undocumented workers.
The obstacle to reform has always been in the GOP-controlled House, where hardcore conservatives have opposed any law that bears even a whiff of amnesty. That, in turn, has spooked potential reform supporters who are wary of a primary challenge.
Indeed, Boehner's so-called principles can be seen as a trial balloon that was quickly deflated by members of his own party, including influential conservative writers like The Weekly Standard's William Kristol, who argued that the issue unnecessarily divided the GOP ahead of the 2014 midterms.
Boehner's remarks were still notable, though, in that they are part of a ridiculous attempt to pin the blame on Obama, a strategy that Republicans have been testing out for months.
Back in October, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who helped author the Senate's immigration bill before fleeing to chase down his lost conservative credibility, said Obama poisoned immigration reform by standing firm through the government shutdown and debt ceiling fight. By not agreeing to the GOP's fantastical demands that he gut his health-care law, Rubio said, Obama made immigration reform "harder to achieve."
"The president has undermined this effort, absolutely, because of the way he has behaved over the last three weeks," he said.
To be sure, some on the right have charged all along that the White House can't be trusted to meet tough border security and verification requirements, necessitating "specific enforcement triggers" before a path to citizenship or legal status could even come into play. What's different now is that the claim has gone mainstream, a reflection of how desperate the GOP is to convey to Latino voters that they would do something on immigration were it not for Obama.
A sampling from the past week:
- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.): "Here's the issue that all Republicans agree on — we don't trust the president to enforce the law."
- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.): "There's some real question of trust here and the White House continues to really thumb its nose up, if you will, at the Congress."
- Rubio (again): "We just don't think government will enforce the law anyway."
As Slate's David Weigel explains, the argument is pretty much bunk:
Say the Senate bill was passed in the House tomorrow, conferenced, and signed by the president. He's got three years left in office. The legalization component of the Senate bill depends on a border security standard that's going to be determined by a panel of state governors. They have five years to sign off. If you think about the timing of the Affordable Care Act — passed in 2010, implemented at the end of 2013 — there's no real danger of Obama using a new immigration law to grant more amnesty. He could do that right now.
So, file these talking points under "Republicans Looking Busy." [Slate]
But Boehner can't spike immigration reform without first finding a scapegoat to blame for its failure. And since Senate Republicans are on board, who else is there to blame but the ultimate conservative bogeyman?