By Mike Lillis - 05/28/14 03:35 PM EDT
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that he's not keeping much faith that Republicans will move immigration reform legislation this summer.
"I'm hopeful but not optimistic, and I'm not optimistic because … the Republican Party is deeply divided on this issue," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.
"Certainly we believe that there are the votes for comprehensive immigration reform on the floor," he added. "[But] they've indicated that they're not going to put it on the floor."
In January, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and GOP leaders seemed poised to move on immigration reform, unveiling a set of "principles" designed both to govern the House debate and ease conservative concerns that Congress would go too soft on illegal immigrants.
The strategy didn't work. Instead, conservatives in the conference revolted, largely due to a provision allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country and work without fear of deportation. Faced with the pressure from his right, Boehner shelved the issue and shifted his rhetoric. Republicans, he now says, simply don't trust Obama to implement an immigration law in good faith.
"The biggest impediment we have moving immigration reform is that the American people don't trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass," Boehner said last month.
Hoyer on Wednesday rejected that argument, saying the Republicans are blaming Obama simply to downplay the divisions within their party. Distrust in the president, he said, is "a reason not to pass anything."
"It's really rationalization, not a reason, for inaction," Hoyer said. "In point of fact, the reason for not moving is that their party is a deeply, deeply divided party on this issue."
Hoyer noted that both the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees have already passed immigration reform this year. He urged GOP leaders to bring those bills to the floor.
"We may not like those bills; we may vote against those bills, but if that's your solution to a broken system, I think they have an obligation to the American people to put forward their solutions," he said. "They're the majority party. We can't put things on the floor."
The comments came a day after Obama asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to delay an internal review of the agency's deportation policies until after the summer.
At Obama's request, Johnson has been examining ways to implement those policies "more humanely," and many Democrats are pressing the administration to take unilateral steps to scale back its deportation numbers, and soon, in the name of keeping immigrant families intact.
Hoyer on Wednesday welcomed the delay, arguing that legislation is far preferable to executive action. But the delay shouldn't be indefinite, he added.
"He [Obama] ought not to give any more space than August," Hoyer said. "He ought to determine, along with Sec. Johnson, what can be done [unilaterally] at that point in time."
Although some immigrants rights advocates are criticizing Obama's delay on a deportation decision, Hoyer predicted the move wouldn't hurt Democrats at the polls in November. Hispanic voters, he argued, know where the two parties stand on the issue.
"I don't think the Latino community's confused. Would they like to see quicker action? Yes they would. I would too," Hoyer said. "But I also think that there's an understanding that the president's, in effect, given some time to try to get some legislation done. Which is really the way we ought to do this."