Before President Obama headed to China this weekend, he sat down one more time with congressional leaders to discuss potential areas of legislative agreement. Not surprisingly, divisions quickly emerged with Republicans — and some of the deepest divisions had to do with immigration reform.
To recap: The president has endorsed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate passed last year and that many believe could clear the current House with bipartisan support. But the bill doesn't have "majority of the majority" backing by House Republicans that Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) insists upon. So Boehner has refused to let it come to a vote.
As a result of that standoff, the president pledged this year to use his executive authority to reform the immigration system. There are questions about how much he can do legally without Congressional approval, and there are few indications of what kinds of executive action he's considering. He has said he will act before the end of the year, but whatever he does without congressional authority may last only until the next president takes office. Still, Boehner and other Republican leaders have warned that if Obama acts on his own he will destroy any lingering chance for bipartisanship cooperation with the new Congress, even before its members are sworn in.
It's time to end this disingenuous gamesmanship. House action on immigration reform in the looming lame-duck session would offer Republicans the opportunity to show they are competent — and, dare we say, mature enough? — to lead, and to govern. Despite its flaws, the Senate bill approved last year — which includes a path to citizenship for some immigrants in the country illegally, strengthens border security and adopts employment verification, among other things — moves the nation toward a more reasonable immigration system.
As has often been said by Obama's critics, a great leader finds a way to lead in the face of opposition. But the same must be said of Boehner. If the speaker doesn't want Obama to act unilaterally on immigration reform, his best move would be to bring the Senate measure up for a vote in the House in the coming weeks. Pundits never tire of saying that Obama's presidential legacy will be affected by his last two years in office. But Boehner's reputation is at stake too.
Polls show broad voter support for immigration reform. There is no excuse, other than political calculation, for waiting. The Senate bill expires with the end of this Congress early next year, and it's hard to foresee the new Republican Senate, under incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), crafting anything as rational or comprehensive as the existing bill. It should be approved by the House, and signed into law.