John Boehner says the right thing on immigration

House Speaker John Boehner had a chat about immigration reform with members of the farm community in his district the other day, and if I’m reading his comments correctly, he shed a bit more light on what’s really going on with Republicans on the issue. The Kitsap Sun reports:

“We are a nation of immigrants and this issue has become a political football,” Boehner said.

Boehner said the day after the Presidential Election 2012, he called for Congress to deal with the immigration issue.

“I didn’t suggest it was going to be easy, I know it’s going to be hard. That’s why it’s still hanging around,” Boehner said. “So for the last 15 months I’ve been trying to move the ball down the field, only to be tackled by people that just don’t want to deal with it.”

Boehner said immigration reform can be achieved in a common sense, step-by-step way. Boehner said immigration reform must start with border security, the ability to enforce the law and to fix the nation’s visa programs.

“I’m still working with the President, working with my colleagues in a bipartisan way, and the Congress to move this issue along,” he said.

Boehner’s suggestion that he has been “tackled by people that just don’t want to deal with it” is an oddly passive construction, given that he is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

That said, it’s actually good to hear Boehner framing the issue this way, because by singling out those who don’t want to take on the issue, he’s taking a step towards putting his finger on the actual problem here. (Presumably Boehner isn’t referring to Obama, since he also claimed in his remarks that he continues to work with the president on the issue, and indeed Boehner’s office said the other day that a recent conversation he’d had with Obama, which included immigration, was “constructive.”)

Last month Boehner famously asserted it would be “difficult” to move on reform this year, because so many members don’t “trust” Obama, leading to yet another stack of obituaries on the issue. But now he’s forthrightly acknowledging that this is really about a reluctance to deal with the issue itself. (It is painfully obvious that the question of whether House Republicans can find some form of legalization for the 11 million they can support is one they’ll have to resolve among themselves, and in reality has nothing to do with Obama.)

Indeed, at this gathering, Boehner even suggested reform remains alive. True, these comments were to local interests who want to see progress. Still, even Dems and liberal immigration advocates really do believe the signs are clear that Boehner does genuinely want to find a way to Yes on immigration reform. I see no reason not to take these latest comments as a sign of the same. And not only that, but Boehner also separately told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he’s in “better shape” with the House GOP caucus than at any time in “the last three years,” which would presumably mean bucking the right would be less of a problem for him than in the past.

Now if only Boehner had the power to influence what House Republicans vote on this year.

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UPDATE: Another key development. The Council for American Job Growth, the progressive affiliate of Forward US, the pro-reform group organized by tech interests, is up with a new spot directly pressuring House Republicans on the issue. I’m told it will air in all 50 states for two weeks:

As I noted here the other day, if reform is going to have any chance, it will require center right GOP-aligned groups — like tech interests, agriculture interests, the business community – to step up and put real pressure on Republicans to act. This is a sign that may be starting.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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