House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) warned President Barack Obama again against taking executive action on immigration Thursday, telling Obama he would be playing with matches and risk burning himself.
“[H]e’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path,” the House Speaker said.
The Wall Street Journal reports that there was additional subtext to Boehner’s warning, specifically a year of discussions — unreported until now by the WSJ — between the two men about achieving a legislative compromise on immigration reform.
According to the report, in the summer of 2013, Boehner and Obama began discussing ways to achieve a move forward with immigration and building trust. The WSJ notes they “bonded over a shared passion for golf.”
Such confidence building included an ask by Boehner to Obama not to create additional hostility on the issue by publicly criticizing Republicans on immigration, something Obama agreed to do — according to the report — and did not go through with a series of 2013 trips to battleground states with large Hispanic populations.
Additionally, the WSJ reports, in November, Obama went along with the idea for Congress to adopt a step-by-step process to reform, rather than that type of massive bill passed by the Senate. The men also discussed ways to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
More often, however, the two men talked past one another, aides said. Mr. Boehner told colleagues that he found it hard to squeeze a word in, and that Mr. Obama didn’t grasp how Washington works. Mr. Obama and White House officials grew skeptical that Mr. Boehner could sell any deal to House Republicans.
In January, Mr. Boehner asked the president to stop signing executive orders on other issues, such as the minimum wage, while they worked on a deal. The speaker thought such a gesture might appease Republican lawmakers accusing Mr. Obama of abusing presidential power.
“We can’t move forward on this when there’s mistrust about whether or not you’re going to enforce the laws that we pass,” Mr. Boehner told the president.
According to the report, while the White House thought Boehner was using the trust issue as an excuse for not having enough votes, Obama’s compromise to Boehner was to not take executive action until after the summer to allow the House to act.
While Boehner expressed frustration after calls with Obama — “aides said, for Mr. Boehner to hang up the phone with Mr. Obama and sigh: ‘He just doesn’t get it.’” — the White House saw Boehner “as a leader perpetually vulnerable to being deposed.”
The WSJ reports that the culmination of the talks occurred in June at the White House, before a Professional Golfers’ Association event.
The speaker requested a meeting with the president before the event. That got the White House’s attention. Previously, it was Mr. Obama who initiated contact.
Seated around a table outside the Oval Office, Mr. Boehner told Mr. Obama that the window for passing legislation was as narrow as it gets. His caucus was rattled by a child-refugee crisis on the Mexico border and the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, in which immigration played a part.
During the 15-minute conversation, Mr. Boehner also informed Mr. Obama the House planned to file a lawsuit over his use of executive authority.
“Now you’re suing me?” Mr. Obama said to the speaker.
The following day Mr. Boehner announced his lawsuit. A week later, Mr. Obama publicly declared any change to the immigration system dead for the year. He blamed Mr. Boehner.
Obama is hosting congressional leaders at the White House for a post-election lunch Friday.