President Obama made a short speech on Thursday morning at the White House to officially call for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Though the Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill addressing immigration, conservatives in the House have no intention of touching it. House Speaker John Boehner doesn't necessarily oppose negotiating on immigration, but it's unlikely that he will force a vote in the House on it. Obama insisted this morning, "Let’s see if we can get this done. And let’s see if we can get it done this year."
Most pundits would tell you that immigration reform won't get done this year or next year. The House GOP is still obsessed with Obamacare; Boehner was tweeting about the health care law during Obama's speech. Beyond that, Congress needs to reach a budget agreement sooner than it needs to pass immigration reform. As Republican Rep. Aaron Schock said last week, "I know the president has said, well, gee, now this is the time to talk about immigration reform. He ain't gonna get a willing partner in the House until he actually gets serious about ... his plan to deal with the debt."
At issue is a "path to citizenship," or what some conservatives call amnesty for illegal immigrants. Social conservatives in the House do not support a path to citizenship, but it is one of the key parts of Obama's plan. Heritage Action, the activist group that bankrolls many Tea Partiers, made it clear during Obama's speech that path to citizenship is a contentious issue.
Sorry Mr. President. There is not agreement on #amnesty.— Heritage Action (@Heritage_Action) October 24, 2013
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has his own plan to let illegal immigrants stay in the country legally for six years. He told Politico on Wednesday, "It’s halfway – and it always has been – halfway between full amnesty and simply rejecting people. I think if we’re going to break this logjam that’s occurred for my whole 13 years I’ve been in Congress, we have to find middle ground."
Really, immigration reform comes down to Boehner. He wasn't able to control the House during government funding negotiations before the shutdown, so it seems he would struggle to get Republicans in line to vote on immigration. He could, however, give up the Hastert rule again and let reform pass with Democratic support in the house. Boehner has only broken the rule under dire circumstances, however.
On Wednesday, Boehner told reporters, "I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed. And I’m hopeful." As The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan points out, this could be Boehner's big chance to prove his authority: "Boehner listened to the right flank of his conference in the fiscal fight, and that path was politically destructive for his party. That’s enough to believe he will at least entertain the possibility of tuning the hard-liners out a bit more this time around."