By Russell Berman - 05/12/14 03:17 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a pretty good idea of what immigration reform in the House is going to look like. He just doesn’t know when it’s going to happen.
Addressing the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Monday in San Antonio, Boehner said he wanted to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws “in chunks” over a period of a week or two to a month. The process would likely begin with border security measures, and it would address the crucial question of citizenship for illegal immigrants in a way that he said would “pass the straight-face test” for people who have already gone through the arduous process legally.
But none of that will happen, Boehner reiterated, until President Obama builds back trust with Republicans in Congress.
And in that respect, little has changed in the months since the Speaker released a set of policy principles to his conference only to have his members resist his push to move forward with actual immigration legislation.
“We’re at a point where my colleagues don’t trust that the president will implement the law the way we would see it passed,” Boehner said Monday. “So I’ve put the ball back in the president’s court. He’s going to do something to demonstrate some level of trustworthiness.”
He suggested Obama had missed an opportunity to do that when he did not respond to a letter from Republican leaders outlining areas where they wanted to work together – a set of ideas that included worker training and education but not immigration.
Boehner has tried to avoid weighing in on the thorniest policy questions within immigration reform, but he said Monday he would look to the reaction of naturalized U.S. citizens to judge whether Congress had gotten it right.
“They are the people I will look to, because whatever it is we agree on, that’s the straight-faced test,” he said. “How do the people who did this the hard way, how do they feel about this process?”
The GOP principles call for a path to legal status, but not guaranteed citizenship, for most illegal immigrants.
Boehner said that after years of bipartisan talks on immigration, the parties were “getting closer on the policy side” on immigration.
Supporters of reform see a window after the GOP’s 2014 primary season is over and before the August recess for House action, but Boehner gave no indication of a similar timetable.
The Speaker was adamant, however, that 2016 politics would not play a role in his decisions on immigration.
“This is not about politics. It is not about elections,” he said. “It is about doing the right thing for he American people. It’s about doing the right thing for the country. Period.”
The politics, Boehner said, was a consideration “way off in the backroom somewhere with our crazy uncle.” “That is not going to drive me to do the right or the wrong thing,” he said. “It has no impact.”