WASHINGTON (AP) — As Republican leaders dampen expectations for overhauling immigration laws this year, the White House is hoping that the GOP resistance is temporary and tactical, and it's resisting pressure from some political allies for President Barack Obama to take matters into his own hands and ease his administration's deportation record.
For a president looking for a legacy piece of legislation, the current state of the immigration debate represents a high wire act. He could act alone to slow deportations, and probably doom any chance of a permanent and comprehensive overhaul. Yet if he shows too much patience, the opportunity to fix immigration laws as he wants could well slip away.
House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday all but ruled out passage of immigration legislation before the fall midterm elections, saying Republicans had trouble trusting that Obama would implement all aspects of an immigration law.
White House officials say they believe Boehner ultimately wants to get it done. But they acknowledge that Boehner faces stiff resistance from conservatives who oppose any form of legalization for immigrants who have crossed into the United States illegally or overstayed their visas. As well, Republicans are eager to keep this election year's focus on Obama's contentious health care law.
Obama is willing to give Boehner space to operate and to tamp down the conservative outcry that greeted a set of immigration overhaul principles the speaker brought forward last week. For now, the White House is simply standing behind a comprehensive bill that passed in the Senate last year, but is not trying to press Boehner on how to proceed in the Republican-controlled House.
"That news yesterday was disappointing but not entirely surprisingly," White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said . "It's a difficult issue for them."
Vice President Joe Biden told CNN on Friday that Obama is waiting to see what the House passes before responding. "What you don't want to do is create more problems for John Boehner in being able to bring this up," he said.