House Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday flatly ruled out even entering into negotiations with the Senate on that chamber’s immigration bill, signaling that the issue is dead for this year — and setting up major hurdles for any action before the midterm elections.
Emerging from a meeting with fellow Republicans, Mr. Boehner said he won’t be bound by President Obama’s timeline on action this year, and firmly rejected the Senate’s approach, which would legalize most illegal immigrants and rewrite the legal immigration system.
“We’ve made it clear that we’re going to move on a common-sense, step-by-step approach in terms of how we deal with immigration,” Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters after the meeting. “The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House. And frankly, I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”
The remarks marked an about-face for Mr. Boehner, who immediately after Mr. Obama’s re-election a year ago said he expected to work with the president on the issue, and even used the word “comprehensive” — a term that, in the immigration debate, has come to mean the broad legalization approach that Mr. Obama and Democrats want.
Immigrant rights supporters said they weren’t ready to give up hope for action and think political pressure will force House Republicans to act sometime next year.
“I believe the House will come to its senses and realize that we have to fix our immigration system in a bipartisan way,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who wrote the Senate bill.
COVERAGE: Immigration Reform
That Senate bill called for quick legal status for most illegal immigrants, though it withheld a full pathway to citizenship until after the Homeland Security Department invested in more Border Patrol agents, doubled the length of pedestrian fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, and purchased more equipment and technology. The Senate bill also would revamp the legal immigration system to let in more foreigners based on job skills or deep family ties.
House Republicans rejected that broad approach and said they would write a series of bills dealing with immigration in pieces. House committees have cleared bills dealing with border security, interior enforcement and guest-worker programs, and leaders were working on a bill that would have legalized young illegal immigrants.
Congressional Democrats and Mr. Obama had held out hope that the House would pass some of those bills, then go to a conference committee to hammer out a final deal with the Senate. That final deal, Mr. Obama said, would have to include citizenship rights for most illegal immigrants.
But Mr. Boehner’s statement Wednesday ruled out that option.
Indeed, Mr. Boehner appeared to be taking a step back. He said he asked House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, to develop a broad set of principles for addressing immigration.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said it seemed “a little bit late in the game” and noted that Mr. Obama already has laid out principles that the House should follow.
Immigrant rights advocates said Republicans were risking their political lives.
“Should they slow-walk it until they get to ‘no’ this year and in this Congress, Boehner will go down in history as the man that sealed his party’s fate with the fastest-growing groups of voters in America,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a lobby group.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, sent a tweet telling Mr. Boehner it should be easy to take up immigration.
She pointed to the bill she and fellow House Democrats introduced that would take the Senate’s legalization program, strip out the specific, tough border security measures and replace them with a call for Homeland Security to devise a security plan.
Mrs. Pelosi said she believes the House has enough votes to pass her bill.
Immediately after Mr. Obama won re-election last year, Mr. Boehner announced that immigration would be a key area of agreement between the president and House Republicans.
Pundits also urged Republican lawmakers to work with Mr. Obama. Columnist Charles Krauthammer said Republicans should unapologetically embrace “amnesty,” while prominent talk show host Sean Hannity said he supported a pathway to citizenship.
But the backlash from rank-and-file House Republicans was swift, and Mr. Boehner and his lieutenants have spent most of the past year trying to figure out a way forward that won’t cost him the support of his conference.
Even Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who helped craft the Senate bill, later abandoned it, telling his House colleagues to follow their own path and not to enter into negotiations with the Senate.