WASHINGTON -- Just a week after House Republicans breathed new life into chances for an immigration overhaul this year, Speaker John A. Boehner all but abandoned the effort Thursday, saying it would be "difficult" to get any legislation approved.
Boehner's principles for immigration reform, unveiled during last week's private GOP retreat, found a welcome audience in President Obama, further boosting hopes that a bipartisan compromise was within reach.
But Boehner received a tepid, sometimes hostile response from rank-and-file Republicans, who see little value in engaging in an issue that deeply divides them as they prepare for November midterm elections.
Realizing once again that he may be unable to move his majority, Boehner lowered expectations Thursday, backing away from an effort that had been central to his party's broader strategy to win Latino and minority voters.
"I never underestimated the difficulty that moving forward would be," Boehner, of Ohio, said Thursday.
The speaker is facing similar difficulties in gaining support from the House's 218 Republicans for a unified strategy in dealing with the upcoming debt-ceiling bill. Voicing some exasperation with his party, Boehner joked, "If the Congress wanted to make [Mother Theresa] a saint and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn't get 218 Republican votes."
He nevertheless sought to shift blame away from his party and onto the White House. He portrayed Obama as a distrusted partner, especially after the president vowed during his State of the Union address to use his executive powers to advance policy goals on issues where Congress has deadlocked.
"The American people, including many of my members, don't trust that the reforms that we're talking about will be implemented as it was intended," Boehner said. "He's running around the country telling everyone he's going to keep acting on his own. He's talking about his phone and his pen."
"There's widespread doubt whether this administration can be trusted," Boehner said. "It's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."
The sudden reversal by Boehner is sure to draw criticism from the immigration community, including the growing Latino electorate that has abandoned the GOP in recent years.