WASHINGTON — Speaker John Boehner on Thursday all but ruled out passage of immigration legislation before this fall's elections, saying it would be difficult for the Republican-led House to act on the issue that President Barack Obama has made a top domestic priority.
In his most pessimistic comments, Boehner blamed the stalemate on widespread skepticism that Obama would properly enforce any immigration reforms that Congress approved.
"The American people, including many of our members, don't trust that the reform we're talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be," Boehner told reporters at his weekly news conference. "The president seems to change the health care law on a whim, whenever he likes. Now, he is running around the country telling everyone he's going to keep acting on his own."
Just last week, Boehner and other House Republican leaders had unveiled broad principles for immigration changes, including legal status for the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally, tougher border security and a shot at citizenship for children brought to the country illegally.
National Republicans see the failure to act on immigration as a political drag on the party after 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney captured just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, and they are pressing for action to moderate the party's image. The principles endorsed last week were seen as a congressional jump-start for an issue that had been stalled since Senate passage of a comprehensive, bipartisan bill last June.
But conservatives rebuffed their leaders and questioned the wisdom of acting this year, equating legal status with amnesty and resisting giving Obama a long-sought legislative victory. Republicans also worry about primary challenges from the right and fear that new Hispanic citizens will add to the Democrats' voter rolls.
Control of the Senate, Republicans say, is within reach, giving them hope for greater leverage in negotiations on immigration in 2015. But the year leading up to the presidential election could be a tough one for making progress since Republican candidates tend to move right to shore up support ahead of the primaries.