Immigration reform is, once again, mostly dead

There is some confusion on whether he’s ready to hammer a stake through the heart of the bills, but House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday afternoon that immigration reform – i.e. amnesty for illegal aliens, plus maybe some other stuff, which is what makes it “comprehensive” – is not likely to move forward.

Fox News reports Boehner’s comments, which evidently came as a big surprise on Capitol Hill, “signal a rough road ahead for one of President Obama’s top 2014 priorities.”  By a strange coincidence, it was not one of the American people’s top priorities.  Not even top ten, according to the latest Gallup poll.  Perhaps enough people have made their priorities clear to penetrate the Beltway force field:

Obama had urged Congress to pass immigration reform during his State of the Union address last week. A glimmer of common ground appeared days later when, during the House Republican retreat, GOP leaders issued guidelines for what they would accept in a comprehensive immigration overhaul. The guidelines included a path to legal status for some illegal immigrants.

But Boehner, under pressure from conservative rank-and-file members to slow things down, said Thursday that lawmakers remain concerned about the administration’s willingness to enforce immigration law.

“There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws, and it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes,” Boehner said.

But rest assured, immigration reform is only mostly dead:

The speaker said he’d continue to look for a way forward.

“I have made clear for 15 months the need for the Congress and the administration to work together on the issue of immigration reform. It needs to get done. I’m going to continue to talk to my members about how to move forward but the president is going to have to do his part as well,” he said.

Though Boehner did not go so far in his remarks, senior Republican sources told Fox News that Boehner is effectively putting up a stop sign on immigration legislation.

“Tap the brakes on immigration reform,” one senior aide said. “Just don’t say dead.”

For however long it lasts, this is a huge victory for grassroots conservatives and immigration reform skeptics.  One of their most common criticisms was the folly of making any grand bargains with a President who feels no legal obligation to honor any agreement he makes; the Waiver of Mandates and Mover of Deadlines wasn’t going to show greater reverence to a border-security bill he loathes than the health-care program named after him.  It certainly seems like Speaker Boehner heard that message loud and clear… and pretty much at the last minute, given how the GOP leadership was talking up immigration bills just a week ago.

The New York Times has some more background on the intra-party drama:

[Boehner’s] comments came two days after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, cited ???irresolvable conflict??? between the House and the Senate and said, ???I don???t see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place.???

Even Republicans modestly supportive of immigration legislation have said this election year is not the time to move forward. Doing so, they say, would only splinter the party and detract from the attention Republican candidates are trying to focus on Mr. Obama???s health care law and sagging approval ratings. By casting the issue as one of trust in the president, Mr. Boehner tried to lay the blame at the White House???s feet for what appears to be a quickly flagging immigration push.

???The reason I said we need a step-by-step common-sense approach to this is so we can build trust with the American people that we???re doing this the right way,??? Mr. Boehner said. ???And, frankly, one of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust.???

Maybe that’s because people remember how every other “amnesty now, border security later” bill ended with amnesty, more illegal immigration, and no border security.  It’s not just an intense lack of trust that the lawless President Obama will keep being lawless, although that’s a big part of the problem, and it’s understandable Boehner would want to point at Obama as the problem, especially since Obama will be pointing right back and making political hay out of immigration reform.

But really, it’s the whole system, which is currently not configured in a way that would give any skeptical observer reason to think Washington will do anything serious about the problem.  Immigration reform and citizenship are core rule-of-law issues.  The Ruling Class has a variety of reasons to wave those laws aside, or at least declare them a terrible nuisance that shouldn’t be allowed to divert resources from the fun stuff it really wants to do.  The American public feels differently, including a sizable portion of legal immigrants who take understandable and laudable pride in citizenship they worked hard to obtain.  Rarely have the people outside the Beltway been so honestly baffled by what the folks inside are thinking, and vice versa.

More from the Times on the heat Boehner was feeling:

At their retreat last week, many Republicans rejected the House leadership???s one-page ???standards for immigration reform??? outright, and others said now was not the time for a legislative push on a number of contentious issues in an election year with trends going their way. More-conservative members in the House reject conferring a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, calling it ???amnesty??? for those who have broken the law.

The opposition has grown more fierce. The conservative activist L. Brent Bozell called for the entire House Republican leadership to be replaced, and on Wednesday, his group, ForAmerica, blitzed the speaker’s office with thousands of phone calls to jam the lines and protest his immigration push. Representative Raúl Labrador of Idaho, an early negotiator on immigration and now a fierce opponent, told the newspaper The Hill that a Boehner immigration push this year ???should cost him his speakership.???

I would add that some of the big Republican names behind the early immigration reform push, particularly Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have lost essential enthusiasm for the project.  Rubio heard what critics said to him; he can cite it chapter and verse these days.  And it’s not just Rubio.  Rep. Paul Ryan, House leader and possible 2016 presidential contender, must realize that headlines like Politico’s “Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan talking on immigration” from a few days ago aren’t exactly setting the Republican base’s hearts aflutter.  Important tip for GOP presidential hopefuls: you don’t want to appear in a lot of two-shots with Chuck Schumer.

Naturally, the 2014 election looms larger in everyone’s mind at the moment, and it’s hard to think of a better way for Republicans to take the wind out of their own sails then backing immigration bills that make their base voters throw up their hands in disgust.  Republican voters expect their representatives’ energies directed elsewhere at the moment, a statement also broadly true of the American public as a whole.  Maybe all that talk about cutting an immigration deal at the recent Republican retreat was a trial balloon; maybe Speaker Boehner’s statements today were another.  He should have no trouble seeing which of those balloons was made of lead.