Mr. Boehner: Call the President's Immigration Bluff

By Stanley Renshon on November 27, 2013

The president says he now backs a "piecemeal immigration overhaul". Good. Those in the House trying to develop public interest immigration reform should take him at his stated word, even though he doesn't really mean it.

Unlike his heath care legislation promises, the president has been consistent and transparent about his immigration preferences. He wants, and has insisted, that any legislation contain a mechanism for the legalization and eventual citizenship of the country's 11.7 million illegal aliens.

The president is no doubt hoping the House is foolish enough to send its own immigration bills, should they pass, to the Senate, where they can be essentially smothered by a Senate-dominated conference and rolled into the larger Senate immigration bill.

But hasn't House Majority Leader Boehner "ruled out negotiations between the House and the Senate on an expansive immigration overhaul similar to one approved by the Senate with bipartisan support in June."

Some conservatives are worried that Mr. Boehner's willingness to entertain any House immigration legislation means that he is "resurrecting amnesty".

The worry stems from Mr. Boehner's comments in a news conference: "Is immigration reform dead? Absolutely not. I have made clear, going back to the day after the last election in 2012, that it was time for Congress to deal with this issue. I believe that Congress needs to deal with this issue."

So, does dealing with this issue require embracing the president's position on legalization or the Senate's legislation? No, absolutely not.

Mr. Boehner has led, and held a divided and sometimes fractious Republican majority together, for the most part. Yet, he is steeped in the legislative branch and its traditions and that means passing legislation.

He has made it clear that he wishes to accomplish something during his speakership. That ambition was on display in the speaker's abortive attempts to reach a grand bargain with the president on budgetary matters.

Mr. Boehner has said that he learned from that experience. Let us hope so.

Mr. Boehner is in the enviable position of being able to accomplish his personal wish to make his legislative mark while doing something important for the country — really reforming American immigration law.

To do this he does not have to agree to any kind of Senate-House conference committee on immigration.

Nor does he have to help pass any legislation that is "big", "comprehensive", thousands of pages long, written to gain the support of major special interest players, or written in such a way that executive bureaucracies can rewrite the law to their own and the president's liking.

All he has to do is make a decision to focus on a very achievable grand bargain in the public interest.

Next: The President's Legacy Trap and Speaker Boehner's Immigration Opening