Did Showdown Kill Boehner's Immigration Dreams?

Did Showdown Kill Boehner's Immigration Dreams?

Immigration is the zombie of political issues–even when it is dead, it is still alive. The combination of the Democratic Party, business interests, and a GOP operative class yearning for its promise of improved standing with Hispanic voters means that you can never really count it out.

That said, it is hard to imagine Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) moving forward after yesterday’s closed-door showdown. According to estimates from those who were in the room–both in favor of moving forward and against–the dozens of GOP lawmakers who spoke were at least 80-20 against bringing a bill to the floor this year. 

There is a palpable sense of disappointment among those interested in moving forward. In private conversations, the word that is used is that the meeting was “predictable.” The same people in the GOP conference who kept Boehner from moving on a bill in 2013 are just as opposed in 2014.

Immigration hawks, meanwhile, sense they scored a major victory. 

“I don’t understand why House leadership would bring this issue up now,” Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina (R) tells me, adding, “After yesterday, that feeling is strengthened based on the overwhelming pushback from Conference meeting attendees.” 

Boehner himself, despite having almost single-handedly resurrected immigration reform from life support over the last two months, was surprisingly tepid in his remarks to the conference.

He even suggested this is just not in the cards.

“These standards are as far as we are willing to go. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said yesterday that for her caucus, it is a special path to citizenship or nothing. If Democrats insist on that, then we are not going to get anywhere this year,” Boehner told members, according to a source in the room. 

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who outside of Boehner is the biggest force pushing the conference to bring forward legislation, also seemed to be feeling the heat. 

As Drudge Report popped with hit after hit against amnesty yesterday–including Boehner with a superimposed sombrero hat and Sen. Ted Cruz’s warning that immigration reform could doom the GOP in 2014–Ryan came into the reporters’ filing center here to do an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. 

First Ryan veered right from the leadership’s talking points about wanting to partner with President Obama on a “year of action,” sternly rebuking the president for flouting the law. Then he strongly embraced the Tea Party, sounding Jim DeMint-esque in his argument that it has been a positive political force for the GOP. 

On immigration, Ryan started with “I do not think you should have a special path to citizenship,” and moved to doubts about whether the GOP could work with Obama on the issue because he’s untrustworthy. 

In the closed-door meeting, Ryan’s support was lukewarm. He only implied the GOP should move forward on a bill, trailing off from his point that there is never a perfect time to consider a big issue like immigration.

It is always a surprise when the zombie turns out to still be moving, but after tomorrow, we are going to be in the calm prelude scenes for a long time.

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