By Justin Sink - 09/17/13 10:30 PM EDT
President Obama on Tuesday blamed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for a lack of progress on immigration reform.
"[T]he only thing that's holding it back right now is John Boehner calling in to the floor because we've got a majority of members of Congress, Democrats and some Republicans, in the House of Representatives, who would vote for it right now if it hits," Obama said in an interview with Telemundo.
"So this is really a question that should be directed to Mr. John Boehner. What's stopping him from going ahead and calling that bill?"
The president said that advocates of immigration reform shouldn't expect him to use prosecutorial discretion to address the issue if Congress is unable to agree to reform legislation.
In 2012, the Obama administration announced it would stop deporting some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they enrolled in either college or the military and did not break any laws.
Some immigration advocates have urged Obama to do the same with the whole population of 11 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally, if efforts to reform the nation's laws remain stymied in the Republican-controlled House.
But Obama told Telemundo that doing so would mean "essentially … ignoring the law" and would be "very difficult to defend legally."
"So that's not an option," he added. "And I do get a little worried that, you know, advocates of immigration reform start losing heart and immediately thinking, 'Well, yeah, somehow there's an out here, if Congress doesn't act, we'll just have the president sign something, and that'll take care of it, and we won't have to worry about it."
Instead, Obama urged lawmakers to back a bipartisan Senate bill, which passed with 68 votes earlier this year, that would provide a pathway to citizenship for those illegal immigrants who paid back taxes and penalties, while boosting border security and employment verification checks.
A spokesman for Boehner said that for immigration reform to work, "it is essential that we have the confidence of the American people that it’s done the right way."
“That means a deliberate, step-by-step approach, not another massive ObamaCare-style bill that people don’t understand," said Boehner aide Brendan Buck.
In his interview, Obama conceded that Boehner may need to "procedurally ... jump through a series of hoops" and indicated that he might be willing to support a piecemeal approach that included a pathway to citizenship. Boehner has repeatedly said he would not bring the Senate bill to the floor, instead pursuing immigration reform in steps.
"I'm happy to let the House work its will as long as the bill that ends up on my desk speaks to the central issues that have to be resolved," Obama said.
— This story was updated at 6:59 p.m.