Immigration reform is lose-lose for GOP

It finally seemed as if House GOP leaders had found a way to break through the opposition to tackling immigration reform in an election year — but not really.

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House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) comments Thursday may sound like a partisan excuse for putting the push on the back burner again. But the truth is that although there are so many other reasons conservatives don't want to pass any reform including legalization, a lack of trust in President Obama is actually one of the most powerful forces against it at the moment. After the administration has made countless changes to the Affordable Care Act, adding things that never appeared in the statutory language members of Congress voted on in March 2010, many Republicans worry no matter how they rewrite the nation's immigration laws, what they pass could soon become unrecognizable.

"There's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws," Boehner said Thursday, adding that Obama would have to work to rebuild trust with the American people and his GOP colleagues in order to pass something. 

Any reform that puts illegal immigrants on a path to legal status — let alone citizenship, which the Senate passed but the House GOP cannot stomach — is tremendously risky for Republicans. Many voters in the base of the party would consider it amnesty. That is putting pressure on Republicans who would otherwise agree with Boehner that passing reform might be essential to overcoming the party's steep demographic liability and winning the White House again. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost Latinos and Asians by more than 70 points to Obama in 2012.

One of those Republicans is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), battling for his political survival in a tough reelection campaign against a Tea Party-backed primary challenger, who is now urging House Republicans to shelve this fight. 

Any Republican running for president in 2016 or 2020 should know roughly 55,000 Latino citizens reach voting age each month, more than half a million each year. Right now that portion of the electorate doesn't support Republicans. Many members are urging House GOP leaders to put off this vote until 2015, but by that time the Republican nominating process will be in full swing and no one will want to vote on it then either.

Putting off a vote until this summer, after many Republicans have already had their primary elections, was also an option. But conservatives warned leadership that the base knows when they are being snookered and as a result would stay home this fall and not turn out to vote. The choice is to block reform now and risk galvanizing Latino voters this fall or passing something that depresses the Republican base. Sounds like the definition of a trap. 

SHOULD REPUBLICANS PASS IMMIGRATION REFORM IN 2014 OR 2015 OR NOT AT ALL? AskAB returns Tuesday, Feb. 11. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.