IN WASHINGTON, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) peddles one line on immigration reform that is transparently false. In his district in Ohio, he becomes a truth-teller.
For months, Mr. Boehner has tried to justify the intransigence of his fellow House Republicans, who have refused to consider a Senate measure to overhaul the broken immigration system. His stated reason was that they could not trust President Obama to enforce any law passed by Congress.
“There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” Mr. Boehner said in February. “And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”
But on Thursday, at a meeting at a rotary club lunch in southwestern Ohio, an area Mr. Boehner has represented for more than two decades, he gave it to ’em straight. Asked about immigration reform, the speaker squarely blamed his GOP caucus, with more than a hint of derision. “Here’s the attitude,” he said, scrunching up his face and delivering the real Republican excuse in a toddler’s whine: “ ‘Ohhhh, don’t make me do this! Ohhhh, this is too hard!’ ”
Mr. Boehner said he’s been pressing Republican House members for more than a year to make a deal. He knows that if he were ever to permit the full House to vote on the Senate immigration bill, which includes tougher enforcement and a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, it would pass. But Republicans continue to block it, not because they distrust Mr. Obama but because they fear attacks from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and tea party extremists who will scream “amnesty” in response to a path to citizenship or any other legal status.
“We get elected to make choices,” Mr. Boehner told his constituents in Ohio. “We get elected to solve problems, and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to. . . . They’ll take the path of least resistance.”
It’s refreshing that the speaker has dropped the pretext of blaming Mr. Obama for the failure of immigration reform — among the greatest of this Congress’s many failures. For better or for worse (we’d say for the better), the president has signaled that he is willing to compromise to do a deal — to bulk up security on the southwestern border beyond what is sensible, perhaps to settle for legal status short of citizenship for the millions of immigrants now living in the shadows. Republicans are the obstacle.
The trouble is that this bracing shot of honesty from Mr. Boehner probably will not fix the underlying problem, which is a Republican Party that cannot see a future for itself, or for the nation, beyond its own predominantly white, aging electorate. House Republicans, rooted in parts of the country demographically distinct from an increasingly diverse nation, are loath to embrace the nation’s Hispanics in part because relatively few of them live or vote in their districts. As they cling to an older America, a new America is rising fast.
Some Republicans, including Mr. Boehner, Karl Rove and others, have seen this and tried to coax back-benchers toward a deal on immigration that would align Republican interests with a changing nation. So far they have failed — but at least in Mr. Boehner’s case, they are starting to level with the public as to why.