House Speaker John Boehner all but squashed any hope Thursday that Congress will approve sweeping immigration reform this year and predictably blamed President Barack Obama. It's not the president's fault that Boehner can't persuade the most conservative Republican House members to do the right thing. Instead of giving up, the speaker ought to bring up for a vote the bipartisan immigration bill passed last year by the Senate and allow sensible Republicans to vote with Democrats and approve changes that would benefit Florida and the nation.
Boehner faulted Obama for suggesting in his State of the Union speech last month that he will use the president's executive authority whenever he can to circumvent gridlocked Congress. The president issued an executive order in 2012 that stopped the deportation of young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and meet certain requirements, such as being high school graduates or military veterans with no criminal record. That angered conservative Republicans, but Obama also has been criticized by Democrats for continuing to aggressively deport other illegal immigrants who could wind up remaining legally in the United States if Congress approved reforms.
In fact, Boehner's latest attack on the president is an attempt to shift attention and blame from his own failure to bring together House Republicans on immigration. Just last week, the House leadership issued a one-page "standards for immigration reform" that fell short of the Senate bill but offered room for compromise. It began with the popular issue of increasing border security, enforcing laws against hiring illegal workers and improving an employment verification system. It embraced an opportunity for legal status and citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here as children and raised here — the premise of the long-stalled Dream Act. It did not provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country as the Senate bill does, but at least it offered some opening for them to "get right with the law" and earn some sort of legal status. For House Republicans who previously insisted that somehow all 11 million illegal immigrants could be returned to their nations of birth, that's progress.
The problem, of course, is that Boehner could not sell even these broad outlines to the conservative House members from his own party. Those conservatives said this week they want to wait until next year to tackle the issue and hope Republicans can take control of the Senate. But what they want is not really reform.
In Florida, at least, there is a growing recognition among some Republicans that continuing to offend Hispanic voters and other minorities is not a prescription for election victories. State House Speaker Will Weatherford has announced his full support for allowing illegal immigrants who graduate from Florida high schools to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. Even Gov. Rick Scott, who faces a difficult re-election fight after riding the tea party wave to victory four years ago, says he will consider that proposal.
In Washington, though, House Republicans remain out of touch with reality on immigration reform and mired in the past. Boehner blames the president, but to see the politician who is really to blame for this failure of leadership he should look in the mirror.