TOPICS > Politics

Boehner hits the brakes on immigration reform

BY Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  February 7, 2014 at 9:03 AM EST
House Speaker John Boehner speaks during a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker John Boehner speaks during a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Morning Line

What a difference a week makes.

Seven days ago House Speaker John Boehner announced it was “time to deal” with immigration reform as he and other GOP leaders unveiled their long-awaited list of immigration reform principles, a move that signalled a willingness to pursue legislation this year.

On Thursday Boehner said the House was unlikely to act until President Barack Obama earned the trust of GOP lawmakers.

“Listen, there’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” Boehner told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference. “It’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

The turnaround comes as some conservatives have raised objections to moving forward with immigration reform at all, while others have cast doubts on the prospect the House and Senate could reach an agreement given their differences.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told Roll Call earlier this week that if Boehner pursued immigration reform this year it could “cost him his speakership.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, called the immigration debate an “irresolvable conflict,” noting the House preferred a piecemeal approach while the Senate last year passed a comprehensive measure. “I don’t see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place.”

The White House and congressional Democrats conceded Thursday the task of passing reform would not be easy, but said they remained optimistic it would ultimately get done.

“Nothing comes easy in Washington — nothing except possibly the naming of a post office,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday. “So we’re not under any illusion that this isn’t hard work by our friends in the House or by any stakeholder.”

Carney also pushed back on Boehner’s charge that the lack of trust in the president on the part of House Republicans was the hurdle to moving forward with legislation. “I think that the challenges within the Republican Party on this issue are well known and they certainly don’t have anything to do with the president.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who helped craft the Senate immigration overhaul, said he agreed with Boehner’s assessment that it would be difficult.

“I believe they know it’s difficult. I believe they know there is not a straight line process,” Schumer said Thursday, according to Roll Call. “So I am not really discouraged by what Speaker Boehner said and I am sure there will be ups and downs between now and when we get a bill done.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who like Schumer is a member of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” took a tougher line with Boehner’s comments. “No one said this would be an easy process, but it is irresponsible for Speaker Boehner and House Republicans to place blame on anyone other than themselves,” he said in a statement.

The president and congressional Democrats have been willing to give Boehner and his fellow GOP leaders the space to figure out a path forward with reform. That window of opportunity could be closing, especially if Boehner continues to push the message that the president is the one to blame for holding up action.

DEBT CEILING DEADLINE

The Obama administration and congressional Republicans also remain at odds over raising the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned lawmakers that unless Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling the country could begin to default on its obligations by the end of the month.

The New York Times’ Annie Lowrey writes that given the fatigue of four debt limit fights in three years, lawmakers are more likely to avoid a standoff this time:

Even as some Republicans continued to hunt for one policy concession or another to demand from Democrats in exchange for lifting the ceiling, leadership has indicated it has no appetite for brinkmanship — particularly as Republicans head into a midterm campaign for control of Congress where they feel they have an upper hand, given the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act and President Obama’s low approval ratings. And the White House has made clear that it has no intention of giving Republicans anything in exchange for increasing the limit.

Speaker Boehner said Thursday his team had yet to finalize a strategy for negotiations on the debt limit, but said lawmakers would not miss the deadline.

“I think that we’re still looking for the pieces to this puzzle, but listen, we do not want to default on our debt, and we’re not going to default on our debt,” Boehner told reporters. “We’re in discussions with members about how we can move ahead. We’ve got time to do this. We’re going to continue to work at it.”

“No decisions have been made,” he added.

Jay Carney reiterated Thursday that Mr. Obama would not make any concessions to Republicans in exchange for raising the country’s borrowing limit.

“The president’s position is what it has been for a long time, which is that we are not going to pay ransom in return for Congress fulfilling this basic responsibility. So this is something that has to be worked out in Congress,” Carney said.

Despite the administration’s warnings, Boehner appears poised to move a debt ceiling increase with provisions attached. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa has the details on the speaker’s latest options:

On Thursday, however, two ideas gained traction, with dozens of Republicans predicting that versions of the pitches could hit the floor next week once House members return to Washington.

At the top of the list: a proposal to link a one-year extension of the debt ceiling to a restoration of recently cut military benefits. Another popular option is tying the “doc fix,” which would alter the way doctors are reimbursed for Medicare treatments, to an extension. Changes to the federal budget that would reduce fraud or mandatory spending levels also have been mentioned.

At a private lunch Wednesday, Boehner told a group of his loyalists that the military-benefits maneuver could force some Democrats to join Republicans and also win support from conservatives, who have voiced frustration with the reductions in payouts for retired military personnel. Those benefits were lowered in last year’s bipartisan budget agreement, which cut $6 billion in payments to veterans over 10 years.

Boehner did not rule out a “clean” debt limit hike if Republicans are unable to unite behind a proposal. The speaker acknowledged that the issue would be a hard sell with his members.

“You know, Mother Teresa is a saint now, but if Congress wanted to make her a saint, and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn’t get 218 votes for it,” Mr. Boehner said Thursday.

And even if the speaker and his leadership team can find those 218 votes in the House for such a plan, getting that approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate is another story.

For more background on the debate, the Washington Post put together a handy explainer of all the debt ceiling explainers.

CHRISTIE HITS THE ROAD

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie traveled to Texas Thursday for a series of fundraisers for the Republican Governors Association, which he chairs. But two of the top Republicans in the Lone Star State — Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott — had no plans to meet with the embattled Garden State governor.

While the GOP doesn’t seem in the mood to oust Christie as head of the RGA, the absence of Perry and Abbott signals that Republicans aren’t exactly eager to appear at his side. Democrats, however, are following his every step. The Texas Democratic Party chair trailed Christie’s visit, trying to compare Christie to Perry and Abbott.

More significant, however, may be the priority national Democrats and left-leaning groups have made of attacking Christie and any Republican who defends him. As a result, the New York Times reports Christie’s aides are being secretive about the location of the governor’s fundraisers, lending his trip a “a strikingly cloistered quality.”

So why is he on the road at all? The Bergen Record’s Herb Jackson talks to out-of-state Republican strategists who don’t think “Bridgegate” will be all that bad for raising money. Christie, to people who would pay to hear him speak, is suddenly more interesting because he’s dealing with a crisis. “There may be a little car-wreck curiosity around this, and there may be money to be raised from rubbernecking,” University of Texas political scientist James Henson told Jackson.

Back in the Garden State, however, Christie is getting more heat — this time for saying he knew nothing about a little-known bill that gives wide eminent domain powers to a higher education board in South Jersey. The problem: Christie signed the bill into law three weeks ago.

Ironically, the bridge scandal and ensuing criticism ensnaring Christie is the kind of juice Wally Edge lived for. Who’s Wally Edge? David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official, whose lawyers have said “evidence exists” that Christie knew about the lane closures, blogged under the pseudonym at PoliticsNJ, without even his own reporter hires knowing who he was. As the Times’ Kate Zernike writes:

He loved stories about politicians caught in a lie, and nursed grudges with sources who had lied to him. And he had a rule: Do not attack political operatives for doing stupid things, because they do what they do for their bosses, the politicians.

LINE ITEMS

  • Senate Republicans blocked Democrats from moving forward with a revised proposal to restore long-term unemployment benefits to 1.7 million Americans. The $6.4 billion cost for the three-month extension would have been offset by “pension smoothing,” which allows companies to use historical data to calculate pension contributions.

  • Senate lawmakers voted 96 to 0 Thursday to confirm one of their own — Montana Sen. Max Baucus — to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China. The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan looks at who might be appointed to replace Baucus, noting that all eyes are on Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh.

  • The Office of Congressional Ethics will continue investigating into March allegations that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., mixed campaign and official funds in a 2012 House leadership race. The OCE recommends that the House Ethics Committee conduct a full probe.

  • Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes holds a four-point lead over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the latest Herald-Leader/WKYT Bluegrass poll of the Kentucky Senate contest released Thursday.

  • A Quinnipiac University survey of the Colorado Senate race released Thursday found incumbent Democrat Mark Udall narrowly leading three potential GOP challengers.

  • WMUR’s James Pindell reports Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is heading to New Hampshire next month.

  • Democratic strategist James Carville is joining Fox News.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is fighting to make sure U.S. Olympians in Sochi get their shipment of Chobani Greek yogurt.

  • Vice President Joe Biden loves Corvettes but is not too fond of LaGuardia Airport.

  • Mr. Biden also told Time Magazine’s Zeke Miller that the Obama administration is not pushing marijuana legalization at the federal level.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • The NewsHour kicked off its “Closing the Gap” series this week, asking lawmakers how they will address growing economic inequality. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., co-sponsor of the bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, spoke with Judy Woodruff Wednesday.


  • Millions of dollars are already pouring into the campaign to control the Senate. Matea Gold of The Washington Post joined Judy Woodruff to discuss how money could affect the midterm elections.


  • Jeffrey Brown spoke with filmmaker Greg Whiteley about his Netflix documentary, “Mitt,” which provides a close-up look at the former GOP presidential candidate and his family over the course of two campaigns.


  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

TOP TWEETS

Bridget Bowman and Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: