In response to the faux-outrage over his mocking of House members nervous about immigration reform, Speaker of the House John Boehner once again told the press, “You only tease the ones you love.” That’s the catchy phrase the media seized on, but once again they missed the speaker’s underlying message.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)<br />(Brendan Smialowskia/AFP/Getty Images) House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
(Brendan Smialowskia/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

First, Boehner let it be known that immigration reform isn’t dead. “I wanted to make sure the members understood the biggest impediment we have to moving immigration reform is that the America people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass,” he said. He later added, “We continue to work with our members. We all know we have a broken immigration system. We’re going to continue to work with our members and have discussions to see if there’s a way forward.”

Second, Boehner explicitly told the White House what he needed to start down that road. “You know, last week I spent running around my own congressional district and heard the same thing that I’ve heard for five years, ‘where are the jobs?’ And I think the policies that are coming out of this administration are causing our economy not to grow and the number of jobs that we need not to occur. And whether I was at a farm, a factory or small businesses across my district, I heard the same thing over and over again, and it’s the reason why the House has continued to stay focused on the American people’s priorities. We’ve made their priorities our priorities, and that’s jobs.” Translation: Start working on what House members want, namely movement on a stack of bills they passed and have sat dormant in the Senate, and then progress might be possible.

This isn’t the first time Boehner has made that plea. Back on February 6, he said at a news conference, “The President is asking us to move one of the biggest bills of his presidency, and yet he has shown very little willingness to work with us on the smallest of things. You know, last week, we sent a letter to the President outlining four bills that he talked about in his State of the Union. They are sitting in the United States Senate. Whether it is the Skills Act, the Research Bill, a couple of other bills, the president could reach out and work with us on those and begin the process of rebuilding the trust between the American people and his presidency.” Hello? Is anyone listening over there? Apparently the White House can’t take a hint.

I realize the administration, according to both Democrats and Republicans, evidences no interest in actually listening to Congress or meeting lawmakers’ concerns, but you’d have to be really bad at legislative affairs not to figure out the deal here: The president and Senate move on some House initiatives, and that will open up room for debate on the immigration front. Oh, and if the White House really wanted something done on immigration, the president would extend a small olive branch promising not to make unilateral changes on deportation enforcement for three to six months to allow the House to work on its bill. (Think of it like the building freeze the White House is always trying to get the Israelis to adopt.) If the House doesn’t move, the president has some political defense to moving unilaterally, and at any rate it takes the complaint off the table for now that the president won’t enforce the law as written.

Sometimes what the GOP interprets as “wanting the issue and not a solution” is merely the White House’s utter ineptitude in legislative gamesmanship. It’s awfully hard to play tennis against a player who can’t send the ball back over the net. In this case, the White House might try at least lobbing one back. What’s it got to lose?