World and Nation

Behind retreat on immigration, a complicated political interplay

WASHINGTON — House Speaker John A. Boehner would sorely like to help engineer an overhaul of immigration policy to bolster his legacy, help his party politically and address a difficult social and economic problem. He just cannot seem to persuade other Republicans, who see the immigration debate as a major threat to their drive to win the Senate and increase their House majority in November.

The tension between Boehner’s desire to forge ahead on immigration and a Republican sense that staying focused on the new health care law is the path to victory in the midterm elections contributed to the speaker’s sharp retreat on Thursday from his new push for an immigration consensus.

Given that Boehner’s negative comments on the prospects for immigration came on the same day Senate Republicans again blocked an extension of emergency unemployment aid, Republicans risk being portrayed as a force of obstruction if the year becomes one long impasse. After Boehner’s comments, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said that if Republicans did not intend to legislate, “why don’t we just pack up and go home?”

But Republicans knowledgeable about the issue said immigration was not yet completely off the table. Instead, they said, reaching any agreement has become appreciably harder because of a Republican reluctance to get caught up in an internal feud and stomp on their increasingly bright election prospects.

At the same time, Republicans say President Barack Obama’s increasing reliance on executive authority to impose his agenda has stirred real resentment among the rank-and-file. It has also deepened their suspicion that Obama would not follow through on tough border enforcement and other aspects of immigration policy that Republicans favor — resulting in the lack of trust that Boehner cited in his remarks.

“He is running around the country telling everyone he’s going to keep acting on his own,” Boehner told reporters, accusing the president of “feeding more distrust about whether he is committed to the rule of law.”

Much more is at work than the question of trust between congressional Republicans and the White House in what is becoming a complicated interplay of issues and politics.

Republicans, through Boehner’s remarks and other channels, are letting the White House know that one way it can begin to win back the confidence of House Republicans is to work with them on issues such as expanded trade authority despite House and Senate Democratic resistance to new trade deals.