- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2014

House Speaker John A. Boehner has emerged as the key figure of immigration reform legislation this year, and he has sent dramatically mixed signals about whether Congress will approve a bill.

At home in Ohio last month, he seemed to mock his fellow House Republicans by telling a local Rotary Club that they think immigration reform is too politically difficult. But returning to Washington last week, Mr. Boehner said the problem wasn’t his troops, but rather a trust deficit with President Obama.

Advocates and opponents of immigration reform now say they don’t know where the House speaker stands on the issue as time runs short before November elections.

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“He has been very consistent with his inconsistencies on immigration, so nobody knows what to expect or what to believe on this topic,” said Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who has long opposed granting legal status to illegal immigrants.

He said talk of legalization is encouraging more illegal immigrants to try to enter the U.S.

Mr. Boehner replaces the president as the key figure on immigration reform. Mr. Obama long pledged to tackle the issue during his first year in the White House, and his political stock among Hispanics sank when he failed to follow through.

After the president helped shepherd a bipartisan deal through the Senate last year, chiefly by staying out of negotiations, attention shifted to the House — and to Mr. Boehner.

Unlike many others in his party, the Ohio Republican seems to want to pass a legalization bill.

Two days after Mr. Obama won re-election in 2012, Mr. Boehner announced that a comprehensive immigration deal would be a top bipartisan priority for Republicans looking to find areas of agreement with the president.

“This issue has been around far too long and while I believe it’s important for us to secure our borders and to enforce our laws, I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others, can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all,” he told ABC News.

Eighteen months later, Mr. Boehner is trapped between that vow and the reality of a Republican Party bitterly divided on the issue. Many rank-and-file Republicans hope to push aside the issue in the run-up to the midterm congressional elections.

Those political calculations could be partly why Mr. Boehner has sent conflicting signals.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Boehner told a group of donors he was “hellbent” on immigration reform this year, but late last month told Rotary members that his own troops didn’t have the political courage to take on the issue.

After returning to Washington, Mr. Boehner said he was kidding. He said the real problem was that Republicans, having seen the president carve up his own health care law with unilateral exemptions and delays, didn’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce parts of an immigration law.

“The biggest impediment we have in moving immigration reform is the American people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass,” Mr. Boehner told reporters.

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