Boehner’s lack of leadership doomed immigration reform

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Last month, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unexpectedly announced that he would resign from Congress after repeatedly fighting losing battles with the extreme right of his own party. Boehner’s service in Congress is, without question, worthy of respect.

{mosads}Nevertheless, his lack of assertive leadership as Speaker of the House of Representatives enabled a fringe minority to undermine Congress’s ability to address the nation’s pressing problems, particularly the modernizing of our outdated immigration system.

Even when Boehner committed to sharing power by promising to give more authority to committee chairmen, the Tea Party clamored for nothing less than full control of Congress.

Leadership is about confronting not only your political opponents, but also your political allies, for the sake of achieving legislative solutions that benefit the entire nation.

The outgoing Speaker on various occasions indicated that immigration reform was necessary, yet offered no timeline. This summer, the Republican leader told a Dublin audience of business executives that he would make immigration reform a top priority on his agenda — despite his own refusal to put the matter up for a vote.

Boehner shelved immigration reform simply out of fear of angering the Tea Party, struggled to push through basic legislation to increase the debt ceiling, and we now find ourselves on the brink of another government showdown.

In spite of all the resistance in Congress, he could still put an immigration bill forward, and pass it with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Boehner is still Speaker of the House of Representatives and he is still accountable to the nation. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 72 percent of Americans think undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in this country if they meet certain requirements.

With the nation behind immigration reform, why does Boehner repeatedly get cold feet?

Recently on immigration, Pope Francis said: “Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”

Boehner hinted that Francis’s visit to Congress motivated his decision to resign. However, he should not use the pope to justify his retreat; rather, should use the pope’s message and moral authority to pass immigration reform that keeps families together.

In an age of Trump-brand anti-immigrant extremism, the country needs strong leadership from our elected leaders. Boehner’s unwillingness to lead demonstrates his inability to escape from the clutches of a nativist wing that will oppose him no matter the direction.

A legacy of leadership is not necessarily accumulated over decades; it can be earned in one defining moment.

The Speaker can still take important congressional action in the last few days he has left. John Boehner is a good and rational person and knows he can make a change on the way out — but whether he will, we will soon find out.

The country, however, shouldn’t hold its breath.

Vargas and Andiola are co-directors of the Dream Action Coalition and national advocates for immigration reform. 

Tags Immigration Immigration reform John Boehner

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