Days after President Obama was elected to serve a second term in office, a chastened House Speaker John Boehner did a huge about face on immigration reform.
“This issue has been around far too long,” Boehner told ABC News. ”A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”
Coming from a man who’d loudly opposed much more modest immigration measures in the past, and who ostensibly controls the floor of the House of Representatives, his remarks represented a breakthrough — and a signal that if Republicans would change one thing in the aftermath of the election, it would be their hardline position on immigration.
Now, Boehner will have either have to put his money where his mouth is, or acknowledge implicitly that Republicans learned less than even they claimed to have learned from their defeat in 2012.
On Thursday, by 68-32, a bipartisan coalition of senators passed a historic immigration reform bill. Fourteen Republicans joined all Democrats in passing the legislation.
The coalition, and thus the legislation, is held together less by a meeting in the middle than by marrying elements of conservative and liberal reform visions, and business and labor interests.
Its key tradeoff is a plan to send thousands of agents to the U.S.-Mexico border while simultaneously placing millions of current immigrants on a pathway to citizenship. But it also creates a highly regulated guest worker program, and a high-skilled worker visa program, and strict rules governing how immigrants already in the country can turn the promise of citizenship into reality.
But the House isn’t poised to pass anything similar, let alone adopt the Senate bill full stop. On Thursday, Boehner reiterated, and expanded, a standard for passing immigration reform legislation that will result in either a narrower, more conservative bill than Boehner outlined in November or no bill at all.
“The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” he told reporters. “We’re going to do our own bill through regular order, and there’ll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people. For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the house, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members.”
Far from making progress toward a “comprehensive” bill, Boehner boasted of piecemeal efforts underway in standing committees of the House. “Chairman McCaul’s done a good job passing a border security bill, Chairman Goodlatte’s doing good work in the Judiciary Committee.”
If House Republicans can ultimately reach negotiations with the Senate, it will require real movement on their part to agree to anything resembling comprehensive reform that also has the support of a majority of their conference.
If that doesn’t happen, and Boehner upholds his pledge not to take an up or down vote on the Senate bill, then the progress the Senate made today will be squandered and Republicans will shoulder the blame.
The Republicans voting for the bill were Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Coker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).