Boehner's immigration tantrum: Passing bad bills because "there is no alternative"

Boehner says he has no choice but to pass dead-on-arrival immigration measures. He's right, and it's his own fault

By Simon Maloy

Published January 15, 2015 4:42PM (EST)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted largely along party lines to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security and undo President Obama’s executive actions on immigration stretching back to 2012. The legislation is, at this point, dead on its feet. Once it moves to the Senate, the Democrats will likely try to strip out the amendments that attack the president’s immigration reforms. When that effort fails, Harry Reid will probably opt for a filibuster, which the Senate Republicans won’t be able to break. Even if they could break it, the bill will be vetoed by Obama.

The legislation is a sop to the party’s conservative base and an act of symbolic defiance against the president. And, like any good act of symbolism, it was accompanied by no small amount of theatrical build-up. Thus you had Speaker John Boehner on the floor of the House delivering a fiery, foot-stampy, “I’m sorry it had to come to this” speech defending his party’s legislative priorities and lashing out at the president for single-handedly destroying the Constitution.

Watch the whole thing if you’d like, but you don’t really need to – the middle few minutes is just Boehner reading aloud some old quotes from Obama about how the president can’t change laws on his own. The intro is the most interesting part, in which Boehner lays out the rationale for passing this bill:

BOEHNER: Today I rise, and the House rises, to support and defend our Constitution. We do not take this action lightly. But simply, there is no alternative. This is not a dispute between the parties or even between the branches of our government. This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself. I appreciate all the efforts of those working to fix our broken immigration system, especially since I’m one of them. What we’re dealing with is a president who has ignored the people, has ignored the Constitution, and even his own past statements.

Most of that is horseshit, but there’s one phrase that deserves special scrutiny: “there is no alternative.” Precisely untrue! As many, many people have pointed out before, there is a handy-dandy alternative to Boehner that falls squarely within his authority as leader of one house of the legislature: namely, legislating. Boehner and the House Republican leadership can get cracking passing bills to “fix our broken immigration system” whenever they damn well please. The White House has even said that they’ll rescind the orders once Congress takes action to implement immigration reform.

To that point, Boehner’s move to defund Obama’s immigration actions comes almost exactly one year after the House Republican leadership released their one-page “Standards for Immigration Reform,” a set of “principles” that were supposed to inform the House GOP’s legislative action on immigration during the last session of Congress. The principles are there, and Boehner counts himself as one of the people working like a dog to reform the immigration system. Seems like a slam-dunk alternative to picking a losing fight with the White House that leaves Republicans open to attacks that they’re risking a partial shutdown of a national security agency, right?

Heh. No. Boehner caught such hell from the conservatives in his caucus over the “principles” that, just a few days after releasing them, he declared immigration reform dead for the remainder of the year, thus creating the conditions for the president to take unilateral action on deportations. He can’t put forward any legislation that goes beyond “border security” because the immigration hardliners in the Republican caucus won’t let him. What they do want is precisely what Boehner is giving them: defiant loud-noise-making aimed at Obama that doesn’t actually move the ball on immigration reform.

And that means that Boehner, when he said “there is no alternative” to this pointless charade, was actually talking about his own situation: he’s so badly mismanaged immigration reform and ceded so much authority to the hard-right crazies that he, John Boehner, is left with no alternatives but to appease those selfsame crazies. Meanwhile the rest of his party is trying to figure out how to navigate their way out of this embarrassment.

If Boehner feels he’s arrived at the point where his only recourse is to pass guaranteed-to-fail legislation, then that’s his own damn fault. He’s had more than ample opportunity to legislate, and he’s broken repeated promises to get immigration reform done. It certainly was an entertaining speech, though.

Simon Maloy

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