Boehner Stiff-Arms Obama On Amnesty

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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House Speaker John Boehner used his first post-election press conference to drop the hammer on advocates for greater immigration.

“Our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed, [but] I have made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally on his own, outside of his authority, he will poison the well and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress,” Bohener told reporters Thursday.

“It’s as simple as that,” Boehner added.

Boehner’s comment came one day after the president threatened to bypass Congress unless it gives him what he wants on immigration, including a large-scale amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.

“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system,” Obama said in his Wednesday post-election press conference.

Unilateral action by the White House, “should be a spur for [congressional Republicans] to actually try to get something done,” Obama said.

Boehner dismissed Obama’s threat on Nov. 6.

“When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. and he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path,” Boehner said.

“The American people made it clear election day they want to get things done and they don’t want the president acting on a unilateral basis,” he added.

In the election, several pro-amnesty Democratic senators lost their seats to anti-amnesty GOP challengers.

Obama’s threat is also facing opposition from pro-amnesty business advocates who worry that his amnesty will wreck their efforts to pass an large immigration bill that would include increase the annual inflow of guest-workers above the current 700,000 per year.

But the business advocates acknowledge there’s a small prospect that an immigration bill will be passed.

“Immigration won’t be at the top of the list, but immigration ought to be on the list,” said Haley Barbour, a former head of the Republican National Committee and a leading business-backed advocates for more immigration, told reporters Thursday.

To preserve that slim chance, they’re trying to head off a direct clash between Obama and the GOP-run Congress over the president’s proposed unilateral amnesty, which would effectively exempt millions of illegal immigrants from the United States’ immigration laws.

“The vast majority of Republicans … see that [action] as something that Congress ought to decide,” admitted Barbour.

“What we need in the short run is for everyone to hold their fire … the Republicans should understand that they can’t go crazy when the president issues his executive order,” said Ed Rendell, a former head of the Democratic National Committee, who is now working with Barbour at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a D.C.-based, business-backed advocacy group.

“We’re asking both sides not to blow up the train,” Rendell said Thursday.

Obama must issue the executive order because he promised to do so, said Rendell, but he can delay the announcement or implementation of the order, perhaps until after the GOP draft its own immigration bill.

“Everyone has to be a little adult here, everyone has to be a little understanding here … [and then] I think we have a real chance of getting a bill with all the goals,” he said.

Those goals include work permits for illegals, and an increased supply of foreign professionals.

“Virtually everyone agrees that has to be addressed … the [guest-worker] quotas have to be lifted, all sides agree on that,” said John Shadegg, a former GOP representative who works with Barbour and Rendell at the BPC.

The demand by business for more foreign workers — and extra immigrant customers — is a major problem for GOP leaders, because their base strongly opposes additional immigration. Numerous polls and the 2014 election results show that the voting public is strongly opposed to an increased supply of foreign workers, especially during a period of high unemployment and stalled wages.

In response, Boehner has successfully zig-zagged since 2012 between their anti-amnesty voters, their pro-amnesty donors, and several possible presidential candidates who worry about the pro-amnesty Latino vote in 2016.

Some GOP legislators, principally the two leading GOP advocates for amnesty, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, also want to avoid the showdown.

“I literally am pleading with the president of the United States not to act,” McCain said in a Thursday interview on MSNBC. “We’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a new mandate. Let’s let the House of Representatives decide if they want to move forward on immigration reform or not,” said McCain, who was one of the eight legislators who drafted the Senate’s 2013 immigration rewrite.

Obama backed the Senate’s 2013 bill, but many polls show that the public strongly opposes his immigration policies by roughly 50 percent to 15 percent.

On Nov. 4, several GOP candidates sharply increased their share of the vote, and especially the male Latino vote, by sidelining or opposing demands by business and ethnic groups for a large-scale amnesty. In Georgia, for example, GOP winner David Perdue won by 6.5 points, and won 42 percent of the Latino vote, after rejecting the Chamber of Commerce’s call for an amnesty.

Most Latino voters are primarily worried about jobs, the economy and education. Only about 36 percent of Latino voters — or about four percent of the likely 2016 electorate — say they won’t vote for candidates who oppose amnesty, according to a recent Pew report.

However, that 36 percent includes many lower-income Latinos who support liberal economic policies, and would be very unlikely to vote Republican even after an amnesty.

But many GOP leaders are loath to give up hope for an amnesty, or to alienate their business donors. For example, Rep. Paul Ryan is still talking up a possible immigration bill.

“I believe there are enough constructive voices in both parties that can lead to constructive immigration reform,” he said Tuesday.

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