House Republicans don't want to do President Obama any favors, but he's asking for one anyway. Though the White House needs the House to pass immigration reform, officials don't know at all how to proceed — according to a Politico report, Obama has reached out to certain members of the House as well as conservative CEOs and former George W. Bush officials to try to gain ground. But White House officials haven't had much of an agenda for those meetings besides "help."
One meeting attendant told Politico, "It didn’t come across that they were really clear on who they should talk to. They didn’t say anything that would lead us to believe they have a plan."
White House press secretary Jay Carney admits that there's not much the president himself can do at this point: "This is something that House Republicans need to work out. They control the keys to the car in that house right now of Congress, and they need to decide how they move forward and what legislation they can move forward. And we’re going to work as best we can to move this process forward."
But perhaps the White House is just reaching out to the wrong Republicans. At least two Texas congressmen rejected invitations to meet about reform. Rep. Sam Johnson, who worked on a bipartisan measure for nearly four years, quit back in September after pressure from other conservatives. At the time, he blamed Obama: "We want to be clear. The problem is politics. Instead of doing what’s right for America, President Obama time and again has unilaterally disregarded the U.S. Constitution, the letter of the law and bypassed the Congress – the body most representative of the people – in order to advance his political agenda." Rep. McCaul called immigration reform a "political trap." Yet the White House reached out to both these congressmen while ignoring more immigration-friendly representatives like Jeff Denham, David Valadao, and Mario Diaz-Balart.
Obama will need to isolate and encourage pro-reform conservatives to move the needle in the House before the 2014 elections. And those Republicans will fight an uphill battle — most conservatives in the House don't care if reform ever happens.
Some see reform as being contingent on how the next round of budget negotiations play out. Rep. Aaron Schock was pretty clear in October:
"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."
Even Sen. Marco Rubio has stopped talking about reform, echoing Johnson by claiming that Obama "undermined" any kind of deal.
Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Texas Republican Party, sums up the issue for the Dallas Morning News: "I don’t think any of the current congressmen are feeling pressure from primary voters to do something. They’re feeling pressure not to screw it up." He continued,
"If you think the alternative of inaction is not as bad as the alternative of action, you’re going to take inaction."