Boehner says no to immigration talks

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday ruled out House negotiations with the Senate on its immigration bill, cutting off one of the last remaining avenues that reform advocates had seen for enacting comprehensive legislation in this Congress.

“We’ve made it clear we’re going to move on a common-sense, step-by-step approach in terms of how we deal with immigration,” Boehner said after a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting. 

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“The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House. And frankly, I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”

The comments appeared to put one more nail in the coffin of an issue that both Boehner and President Obama had listed as a top priority after the 2012 election.

For months, the Speaker has vowed that the House would neither take up the Senate Gang of Eight bill nor consider a similar “comprehensive” piece of immigration legislation. 

But until Wednesday, supporters of an immigration overhaul had held out hope that the House would pass a series of individual immigration bills that could then be reconciled with the Senate plan. The Senate approved its measure in June on a bipartisan vote of 68-32.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was “stunned” by Boehner’s pronouncement.

“This House of Representatives might just as well not exist,” Reid told Fusion TV. “They don’t do anything.”

The House has not voted on any immigration legislation, and party leaders have said not to expect any floor action before the end of the year. The Speaker’s parameters would likely require a far more complicated process of merging individual House bills either with new Senate legislation or with specific components of the bill that the upper chamber passed in June.

Liberal advocates say House Republicans will pay a price at the polls in 2014 if immigration reform stalls.

“Surely, Speaker Boehner and others in the House leadership should reconsider the suicidal path they are headed down,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. 

“The future of the GOP depends on what the House Republican leadership decides to do on immigration reform. Should they slow-walk it until they get to ‘no’ this year and in this Congress, Boehner will go down in history as the man that sealed his party’s fate with the fastest growing groups of voters in America.”

A Boehner aide said he was simply stating publicly what he’s said privately to colleagues for weeks. 

Yet his statement rankled Republican supporters of immigration reform who are working on legislation that can win the majority GOP support that Boehner has said would be needed for a vote.

“I urge Speaker Boehner to remain open to any options that allow us to solve this crucial issue,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said in a statement.

Diaz-Balart, a longtime advocate of immigration reform, told reporters he didn’t want the Speaker to do anything “to tie our hands” on the issue.

“I’ve lost patience a long time ago,” he said. “Not with leadership, but I just realize this is a very difficult task. And again, time is very short, and at this stage, I just want to make sure we don’t tie our hands any longer.”

Conservatives who warned that a conference committee on the entire Senate bill would lead to an unfavorable compromise cheered the Boehner statement. 

“Today’s announcement is an important and positive development for our nation, our people, and the Republican party,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said. “House Republicans are resisting an influence campaign and standing for the interests of the American people.”

Boehner made his remarks hours after a pair of immigrant teenagers confronted him at a Capitol Hill diner, telling him their parents were in danger of deportation because of the House’s inaction on immigration reform.

Boehner was eating breakfast at Pete’s Diner when Carmen Lima, 13, and Jennifer Martinez, 16, approached him with a video camera in tow.

After Lima shared her story and asked the Speaker to commit to immigration reform, Boehner told her, “I’m trying to find a way to get this thing done. It’s, as you know, not easy. It’s not going to be an easy path forward, but I’ve made it clear since the day after the election that it’s time to get this done.”

The video of the two-minute conversation was circulated by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, which is lobbying Congress to pass legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Afterward, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chimed in via Twitter, touting a bill similar to the Senate plan that has garnered 190 co-sponsors, including three Republicans. “Actually it is easy, Speaker Boehner,” she wrote. “With 190 cosponsors on H.R.15 and 28 [Republicans] vowing support, we have the votes to pass immigration reform.”

At the White House, Obama kept up his push for immigration reform by meeting with religious leaders supportive of  legislation. 

“He noted there is no reason for House Republicans to continue to delay action on this issue that has garnered bipartisan support,” the White House said in a description of the meeting. “It would show the American people that Washington can still work together to solve our nation’s challenges.