Policy: Law

Five reasons why Democratic threats over immigration reform won't work

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Democratic threats against House Speaker John Boehner on immigration may have the opposite effect.

In recent days, Democrats have threatened that President Obama may take unilateral action on immigration if Republicans fail to pass a comprehensive bill by the end of the summer.

But if the goal is to pressure the Ohio Republican to put legislation up for a vote, the threats actually make that less likely to happen, GOP insiders say.

Boehner is probably as publicly supportive of overhauling U.S. immigration law as proponents could hope to find in a Republican congressional leader. But Boehner cannot afford to act on such a sensitive issue if the public perception is that he buckled.

Doing so could roil his caucus, undermine his speakership and weaken his hand in negotiations.

Republicans familiar with Boehner’s thinking say that he is fully aware of this and categorically will not move forward under this scenario.

“That should be obvious,” said Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, who represents a central California district with a sizable Hispanic population and supports immigration reform. “I can't believe someone actually thinks they're going to break Boehner.”

Here are five reasons why the threats will likely backfire:

It’s an election year

Voters head to the polls in roughly six months. Obama and Senate Democrats are on the defensive, and Boehner has little to gain by injecting immigration into the campaign. Midterm electorates tend to favor Republicans, but pushing a volatile issue like immigration could anger the GOP base and depress turnout, particularly if Boehner moved legislation that could be tarred as “amnesty” and was opposed by a majority of his caucus.

Boehner would like to remain speaker

Boehner’s position within his 233-member conference is probably at the strongest point of his tenure as speaker. But many House conservatives remain unhappy and are openly discussing plans to deny him the 218 votes he needs to win a third term when caucus elections are held after the midterms. Moving immigration legislation that did not enjoy the widespread support of his members could cause the kind of intra-party divisions — both on and off of Capitol Hill — that could make it impossible for him to continue as speaker. Boehner might decide to retire at year's end in any event, but for now he is pointedly moving to maintain the political capital he needs to win re-election as speaker.

The implementation of Obamacare has caused distrust

As television journalist Jorge Ramos disdainfully asked Boehner during the speaker's weekly Thursday news conference: What does Obamacare have to do with immigration reform? In a word: everything. Fair or not, many House Republicans sincerely don't trust Obama to enforce the law. Why? Because the president has unilaterally delayed and altered portions of the Affordable Care Act, his prized achievement, dozens of times. That has left House Republicans with little faith that Obama would enforce portions of any immigration compromise that were important to them but that he otherwise opposed.

“When he continues to ignore Obamacare — his own law — 38 unilateral delays, he reduces the confidence of the American people in his willingness to implement an immigration law the way we would pass it,” Boehner told Ramos.

Boehner won't want to appear weak

On Thursday, the Washington Examiner's Susan Ferrechio reported that top Senate Democrats warned Boehner that if he doesn't bring immigration move reform legislation to before August, Obama would act unilaterally. As this becomes the dominant narrative in D.C. -- that Obama will act if Boehner doesn't -- it becomes even harder for the speaker make an attempt. Appearing to act out of weakness only makes it harder for him to overcome all of the political challenges that come with attempting to push reform legislation.

His negotiating position would be weaker, too

The perception of acting under duress ensures that Boehner would be negotiating from a weakened position. Even House Republicans supportive of passing comprehensive immigration reform despise the bipartisan “gang of eight” package that cleared the Senate last June. They favor passing a collection of bills that address each aspect of reform, as opposed to one big bill. Boehner is unlikely to have much luck in negotiating House GOP policy prerogatives if Democrats and the White House believe that he is determined to head off unilateral action by the president at all costs.

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