President Obama decided to move ahead with executive action on immigration partially because Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerPaul Ryan sells out conservatives with healthcare surrender Matt Schlapp: 5 lessons Trump, Ryan must learn from healthcare debate Nunes rebuffs calls for recusal MORE (R-Ohio) wouldn’t commit to holding a vote on reform legislation in the new Congress, a spokesman said Thursday.

“Just two weeks ago, when Speaker BoehnerJohn BoehnerPaul Ryan sells out conservatives with healthcare surrender Matt Schlapp: 5 lessons Trump, Ryan must learn from healthcare debate Nunes rebuffs calls for recusal MORE was doing his post-election news conference, he was asked by reporters in that news conference if he would commit to bringing up immigration reform legislation in the next Congress, and he wouldn’t do it,” Josh Earnest said during an appearance on MSNBC.

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Earnest said GOP leadership was scared to allow a vote because “they know, as we do, that if that bill were allowed to come up for a vote, it would actually pass in bipartisan fashion.”

“The president simply isn’t going to tolerate that,” Earnest said.

Asked if he could guarantee a vote earlier this month, Boehner said he needed to talk to his caucus members, but that he had made his support for immigration reform legislation “very clear.”

“It is time for the Congress of the United States to deal with a very difficult issue in our society,” Boehner said.

Obama is expected to unveil his executive actions in a prime-time speech Thursday night. He’s believed to be preparing a program that would allow millions of illegal immigrants who have been in the country for at least 5 years, have familial ties to U.S. citizens and no criminal record to defer deportations and receive a work permit.

The president is also expected to broaden eligibility for a program for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, and expand the number of visas issues to skilled high-tech workers and their families. In total, millions of illegal immigrants are expected to benefit from those actions.

Earnest would not confirm the scope of the action, but he did say Obama had “significant authority” to act and that his moves would be a “substantial contribution.”