Boehner: Immigration Reform? Oh, We Changed Our Mind About Voting On That In 2014

A week ago, House Speaker John Boehner proudly unveiled the Republican Party’s “principles” for immigration reform. This sparked a burst of (premature) optimism that, despite House Republicans’ general opposition to doing things, immigration reform might actually become law sometime this year. But Boehner dashed those hopes Thursday, clarifying that, as swell as these immigration “principles” are, the GOP isn’t actually going to vote on them or anything.

"There's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws," Boehner said. "It's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."

It isn’t a surprise that the Republican Party’s commitment to immigration reform is, in fact, about as firm as jelly. Even after the 2012 election revealed that the party’s toxic approach to Hispanic voters presented a serious electoral problem, the GOP has remained hostile to passing immigration reform. The reasons for this aren’t terribly complex.

“Part of it, I think — and I hate to say this, because these are my people — but I hate to say it, but it’s racial,” an anonymous GOP legislator told BuzzFeed after the principles were unveiled. “If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘These people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race.”

Indeed, after the Senate passed an immigration overhaul bill last year, the House proceeded to do nothing at all. Over in the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) was similarly pessimistic about the GOP’s willingness to pass a bill this year, so it’s hardly a shock that Boehner has once again put the kibosh on immigration.

What is surprising, though, is that the party felt compelled to release those “principles” to begin with. Why bother doing that if you’re going to backtrack a week later? As a reason for reversing course, Boehner cites Republicans’ distrust over President Obama’s willingness to enforce the rule of law. That's a ridiculous allegation, but putting that aside, House Republicans had been voicing this same concern before the GOP even released its “principles.” So it’s not like anything has changed.

A possible explanation is that Republicans thought it would be neat to buy themselves a positive news cycle by suggesting that they might pass such a popular policy. But that goodwill goes away as soon as Boehner does a complete 180 the next week... so the GOP’s political calculus here is a real head-scratcher.