"A week after signaling that House Republicans would pursue an overhaul of immigration laws, Speaker John A. Boehner declared Thursday that his caucus is unlikely to move forward until President Obama gains their trust.
“There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said during a midday news conference at the Capitol. “And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”
Boehner was making his first extended public remarks since releasing a list of GOP “standards” for immigration policy at a conference retreat last week. His attempt to place the burden on Obama illustrated the mounting opposition from hard-line conservatives and laid the groundwork for blaming the White House if a deal fails.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said this week that an immigration deal remains a long shot in a sharply divided Congress. Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R- Idaho) suggested that Boehner could lose his speakership if he pursues a bill in a midterm election year.
Aides emphasized that Boehner remains committed to immigration reform and said he raised concerns about Obama because they had emerged as a consensus during the retreat. But his remarks drew rebukes from advocacy groups frustrated by the verbal zigzags of a speaker who has spent 15 months calling immigration a top priority while refusing to bring any legislation to the House floor.
The White House and congressional Democrats were left searching for clues Thursday to determine whether Boehner was caving in the face of conservative opposition or merely trying to manage an unruly caucus to avoid a full-scale revolt.
“He’s in a very difficult position,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key architect of a comprehensive Senate immigration bill approved last summer. “He’s trying to figure out, in my judgment, a way to get this done without his caucus — too many in his caucus — rebelling.” Other Democrats were more pessimistic.
“He put a test balloon up there — and I thank him for that — but I don’t think he got the majority support, so he’s going to try to put blame on the president,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (Tex.), who added that Boehner’s comments confirmed things he has heard from his Republican colleagues in recent days.
While chiding Obama in public, Boehner and other House GOP leaders have continued to push forward on immigration reform behind the scenes, said Capitol Hill aides familiar with the deliberations.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are drafting legislative language on bills dealing with young illegal immigrants and visas for low-skilled foreign workers that could be introduced in the spring.
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