House speaker John Boehner talked about immigration reform on Thursday, and the media were all over it.
Reform “needs to get done,” Boehner said, but is “going to be difficult” due to the “widespread doubt” among House Republicans that President Obama can be trusted to enforce the law. All he did was accurately describe the reality of the situation. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan made exactly the same argument Sunday on ABC’s This Week. So did Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Face the Nation. Senator Marco Rubio, who helped write the Gang of Eight legislation in the Senate, has been saying this for months.
But the media reacted as if Boehner had just shattered some long-held conventional wisdom that passing comprehensive immigration reform through a GOP-controlled House would be easy, and that House Republicans were generally very trustful of the Obama administration on most other issues. As Slate’s Dave Weigel put it: “The bias of the news media is to pretend that something new is happening.”
On Friday, the “story” of Boehner’s remarks and their “significance” was on the front page of the New York Times (“Boehner Doubts Immigration Bill Will Pass in 2014″), Washington Post (“Boehner says Obama must gain GOP trust on immigration”), Washington Times (“Issue of trust puts brakes on immigration reform”), Wall Street Journal (“Immigration Overhaul Stalls”), and Los Angeles Times (“Hopes dim for deal on border reform”), among others. Immigration reform was in “serious danger,” warned MSNBC. Boehner had “hit the brakes,” according to Fox News.
Reporters closely following the immigration debate, such as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, know better than to make a big fuss about Boehner’s remarks. (See here.) As Bloomberg’s Francis Wilkinson wrote in November 2013:
Immigration laws don’t invite smooth sailing. “The ‘86 bill was dead so many times,” recalled Muzaffar Chishti, who runs the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute. “I took my vacation after it was clear Congress was not going to pass a bill.” Chishti was not the only one surprised when a major overhaul passed both houses in mid-October, just weeks before the 1986 midterm election.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic point man on immigration reform, also knows better. “I read what Boehner said, he has said it before,” Schumer said. “For all we know, he had to send a message on immigration to help pass the debt ceiling. He has not said ‘I’m not doing it,’ he has not said, ‘It’s over,’ he has said ‘It will be very difficult.’ He’s right. I agree with him.”
A Fox reporter was apparently told that Boehner was ”likely” to scrap immigration reform in 2014. So maybe immigration is dead, or maybe this July 2013 report from the Huffington Post is just as applicable today: “Immigration reform is not dead. The doom and gloom is being fed, at least in part, by GOP leadership, to help position them politically for the coming fight.”
If that’s the case, GOP leaders have successfully established “lack of trust in Obama” as the primary roadblock to reform. It’s possible this is all about messaging heading into the midterm elections, but it could also be an attempt to set up a dramatic “game changing” moment to clear the way for legislation in the House.
This is precisely what happened in the Senate last year, when Republicans and even some Democrats began grumbling about the lack of border security measures in the Gang of Eight bill. Senators Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R., N.D.) swooped in with an amendment to double the amount of border-patrol agents, an increase that actual border patrol agents thought was ill-advised. But the Corker–Hoeven amendment gave lawmakers an excuse to support the final bill, which passed easily.
Some opponents of comprehensive reform have suggested that Obama could announce he is appointing a Republican to lead a special task force to secure the border, or something along those lines, which would allow a sufficient number of Republicans to declare “problem solved” and pass legislation out of the House. Maybe that sounds a tad conspiratorial, but it is probably less preposterous than the media’s insistence that what Boehner said Thursday has any bearing on immigration reform’s prospects this year.