I’ve been making the case that when it comes to immigration reform, John Boehner is a feckless coward who, caught between two bad political choices, is content to defer action indefinitely while engaging in empty excuse-making to save face. Thankfully, I don’t have to make that case anymore. John Boehner is making it for me.
For months now, Boehner has been arguing that the biggest obstacle to passing immigration reform in the House is that the Republicans just can’t trust President Obama to actually enforce the law when it comes to border security and deportations. This is a ridiculous standard on its face – the House GOP didn’t trust George W. Bush on enforcement, so it’s doubtful that any president could meet their maximalist expectations. And as my colleague Jim Newell points out, Boehner is essentially arguing against the passage of any legislation on any issue. If you can’t trust the president, why bother?
Faced with Boehner’s obvious bluffing on the trust issue, the Democrats called him out. Yesterday, Harry Reid offered Boehner a way around his crippling mistrust of the president: pass comprehensive reform legislation now, but tweak the bill so that it takes effect in 2017, after Obama has left office. “If Republicans don't trust President Obama, let's give them a chance to implement the bill under President Rand Paul or President Theodore Cruz,” Reid said.
Problem solved, right? Hah… no. Boehner’s office released the following statement shooting down the idea: “Such a scenario would eliminate any incentive for the administration to act on border security or enforce the law for the remainder of President Obama's term.”
So Republicans can’t implement immigration reform now because Obama won’t enforce the law. But they also can’t wait to implement immigration reform because Obama needs incentives to enforce the law? Boehner has put himself in the position of arguing that he can’t act because Obama needs to be incentivized to do something he won’t do anyway.
Boehner is just making up reasons for why he can’t act on his own stated convictions and get immigration reform passed. It has nothing to do with President Obama and everything to do with Boehner not wanting to jeopardize his own grasp on power and his party’s chances to make gains in the midterms.
Brian Beutler points out that the threat of executive action to limit deportations further reduces the chances of reform passing, since it’ll agitate the hardline reform opponents in the House and make Boehner even more reluctant to act (if that’s even possible). Any move from the White House will be seized upon by Boehner and the Republicans as an out-of-control imperial president circumventing the will of Congress, and they’re far more eager to make that argument to voters heading into the midterms than to arrive at a coherent policy outcome.
That’s the reason Boehner is contorting himself into logical inconsistencies on immigration. Acting to pass legislation threatens to damage him politically. Inaction puts the spotlight on President Obama. And for all of Boehner’s talk about his commitment to immigration reform, he’s more invested in saving his own skin.