House Speaker John Boehner wouldn't take a stand on whether immigration law changes should include a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize passage of a bill.
“As difficult as this issue is, me taking a hard position for or against some of these issues will make it harder for us to get a bill,” the Ohio Republican said in a taped interview airing today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
The Senate last month passed a broad plan to rewrite immigration laws, combining a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with a $46 billion border-security program. Many House Republicans oppose a path to citizenship, which Democrats say must be part of any immigration plan.
Insisting on a “step-by-step approach” to immigration law, Boehner again rejected the Senate bill, saying it “doesn’t have enough serious triggers to protect our border.”
Under repeated questioning on the CBS program, he resisted saying whether he would allow any bill on the House floor that includes a path to citizenship.
“I’m not going to predict what’s going to be on the floor and what isn’t going to be on the floor,” Boehner said. “And that’s what you’re asking me to do. I can’t do that. And I don’t want to do that.”
Boehner’s reluctance to state a position underscored the difficulty congressional leaders face in trying to pass immigration legislation this year. House Republicans, in rejecting the Senate bill, decided to delay consideration of their body’s own measures until later in the year. The drawn-out process could spill into the 2014 mid-term election season and jeopardize final negotiations.
“We’re dealing with this in a common-sense, step-by-step approach,” Boehner said. “We want to deal with this in chunks, chunks that the members can deal with and grapple with and, frankly, chunks that the American people can get their arms around.”
President Barack Obama has said he wants to sign immigration legislation by the end of this year. Immigration change has been the highest domestic priority in his second term, after he won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in November. Republicans, in turn, want to boost their party’s appeal to Hispanics after 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney promoted self-deportation as an answer to illegal immigration.
About 54 percent of voters favor eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., while 12 percent want to let them stay without becoming citizens and 28 percent favor deportation, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
By a margin of 69 percent to 27 percent, Americans say Republicans and Democrats in Congress will be unable to work together to pass immigration changes because of political gridlock, according to the survey conducted from June 28 to July 8 among 2,014 registered voters.
Acknowledging the gridlock, Boehner said finding common ground is more difficult than it was a decade ago.
“We’re in a divided government,” he said, referring to a Democratic-controlled Senate and White House and a Republican-controlled House. “We’re fighting for what we believe in. Sometimes the American people don’t like this mess.”
Boehner, who swore off private negotiations with Obama earlier this year, said, “We’ve had some more regular conversations here in the last couple of months.” He said his last talk with Obama was about a week ago, while declining to say what was discussed.
While agreeing that Congress is unpopular, Boehner rejected the idea that it’s been unproductive.
“We should not be judged by how many new laws we create,” he said. “We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”
To that end, Boehner renewed his vow to abolish Obama’s health-care law after the House voted to postpone two of its key provisions.
“Obamacare is bad for America,” Boehner said in excerpts from the interview that were posted on the CBS program’s website. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that it never happens.”
The House last week voted to delay by a year a mandate that U.S. businesses with 50 or more workers provide their employees with health insurance. The administration had already announced the mandate would be postponed until 2015 to give businesses more time to adjust.
The House also voted to delay a centerpiece of the new law: a requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a fine.
Obama defended the law on July 18, saying it’s helping push health-care costs down.
Boehner also reiterated his desire to “fix our fiscal situation” through tax reform and changes to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.
Asked if such a goal is possible to achieve this year, Boehner said, “Hope springs eternal. I’m an optimist.”
To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org