"Cut Boehner off at the knees": How to finally end the GOP's immigration charade

Republicans keep saying the same ridiculous line about passing reform. Here's how to finally stop the stupidity

Published September 5, 2014 5:39PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Immigration reform and the Chicago Cubs’ first World Series title since 1908 have something in common. You’ll always have to wait ‘til next year.

John Boehner, who vowed to pass an immigration reform bill this Congress and then did nothing to make good on that promise, went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on Tuesday and said that hope for immigration reform is not dead; it could happen … next year.

“So I would hope that the president would continue to follow the law, and begin to take steps that would better secure our border," Boehner said on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. "It would create an environment where you could do immigration reform in a responsible way next year."

We’ve all heard this same routine before. As the 2013 legislative calendar came to a close, Boehner insisted that immigration reform was still very much in the cards, it would just have to wait until 2014. “Is immigration reform dead? Absolutely not,” he said. As the months slowly slipped by and no action was taken on immigration, Boehner punted again, saying it just wouldn’t happen in 2014: “I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place.” Floating hopeful trial balloons on immigration and then gleefully popping them is a Boehner specialty.

However, the fact that Boehner is still playing this stupid game is itself a compelling argument for President Obama to get busy taking whatever executive action he’s going to take on immigration.

What Boehner is doing here is obvious: He’s trying send the message that Congress can work with the president if only he’d drop his plans to use his executive authority to alter deportation policy (or whatever he has planned). There is absolutely no reason to believe this is true.

Think about what Boehner is saying: give us what we want (border security) and maybe that will make us a little more amenable to some sort of broader reform. The administration already tried doing that, and they got nothing in return. The White House stepped up enforcement of deportation law in order to buy a modicum of good faith with conservatives who are obsessed with border security. It didn’t work. The administration has already delayed taking executive action on immigration to give the House Republicans the time and space they needed to come up with a bill. That didn’t work either. Instead, the leadership sat on their hands and then threw in with the nativists in their caucus in order to pass a terrible bill aimed at addressing the border crisis.

The fact that the leadership already caved to the right doesn’t bode well for any future action on immigration reform. The New Republic’s Danny Vinik points out that whatever hope for reform existed has been all but extinguished by the fact that basically every Republican who has any clout has lurched hard to the right on immigration. There’s nothing Obama can possibly offer that would satisfy the demands of House conservatives, and they’re the ones calling the shots, so why bother going through this rigmarole again when the outcome is not in question?

Instead of letting Boehner drag out this tiresome charade, Obama should just cut him off at the knees and do what he’s said he’s going to do for a long time now and go forward with executive action. The White House has signaled that they might delay action (again) because Democrats in tough midterm fights are nervous about reinvigorating a controversial issue like immigration so close to Election Day. I tend to be skeptical of this rationale; immigration is already on everyone’s mind after the big border crisis fight of the summer, and conservative voters are already angry and motivated to vote against Democrats.

And Brian Beutler makes the point that the politics can’t be too terrible for the White House’s side given that “Republicans sound much more spooked than Democrats” by Obama’s plans. Speculation is rampant that any action on immigration by Obama before the election would impel House conservatives to withhold funding for the government and risk another shutdown at the end of September. Rep. Steve King, who forced concessions on immigration from Boehner at the beginning of August, said as much to the Washington Post. Meanwhile, other Republicans are loudly insisting that no one is going to shut the government down over immigration. And there’s also the ever-present conservative desire to impeach Obama for something, which an immigration fight would undoubtedly inflame. It’s pretty clear the Republicans recognize the political danger they face.

All this argues in favor of taking action and doing so fairly soon. There’s little question that the president has the authority to act on immigration; Greg Sargent reported yesterday on a group of 130 law professors arguing that Obama “has expansive legal authority to act to temporarily protect additional groups from removal — and that this authority is rooted in statute, court opinion, regulations, and precedent.” And there’s no question that Republicans are incapable of being good-faith legislative partners on an issue that everyone agrees is of paramount importance. Boehner’s latest suggestion that reform could happen “next year” is proof enough of that.

By Simon Maloy

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