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Politics 2014: Immigration stall a matter of trust - House GOP leaders

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   Feb. 9, 2014 at 6:01 AM   |   Comments

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The congressional Republican leadership signaled last week passage of comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration laws is on life support.

It boils down to a matter of trust, several House leaders said.

During a media availability last week, House Speaker Boehner said immigration has been "kicked around forever and it needs to be dealt with."

After the House Republicans' retreat in Maryland at the end of January, Boehner released a set of broad principles that call for, among other things, legal status of immigrants living in or entering the United States illegally, but not citizenship, except "for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own."

Despite agreement "by and large" among Republicans for the leadership's immigration principles, Boehner said Thursday, "I've never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year. And the reason that I said that we need a step-by-step common sense approach to this is so we can build trust with the American people that we're doing this the right way."

"Frankly, one of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust," he said. "And the American people, including many of my members, don't trust that the reform that we're talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be.

"The president seems to change the healthcare law on a whim," Boehner said. "And now he's running around the country telling everyone that he's going to keep acting on his own."

"Listen, there's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be entrusted to enforce our laws," Boehner said. "And it's gonna be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."

A good start to ease concerns, he said, would be for President Obama to reach out and work with Republicans, something Boehner said the president hasn't done.

"The president could reach out and work with us on those and begin the process of rebuilding the trust between the American people and his presidency," the Ohio Republican said.

When a reporter said Obama reached out on the immigration principles, Boehner said, "[The] president's going to have to rebuild the trust ... [so] the American people and my colleagues can entrust him to enforce the law the way it was written."

During his media briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was "heartening" to see Republican congressional leaders "identify immigration reform as a necessary priority. That's a good thing."

"But look, nothing like this -- nothing this important, nothing this comprehensive ever comes fast or easy in Washington, so this won't be any different," Carney said while expressing optimism comprehensive immigration reform could pass in 2014."

Asked whether Obama would operate outside of Congress on immigration reform, Carney said: "There's no alternative to comprehensive immigration reform passing through Congress. It requires legislation. ... That's why we need to work together to build on the existing bipartisan consensus to see it help deliver a bill through the House and then a bill that can ultimately reach the president's desk."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, too, said last week there was a fundamental lack of trust in the Obama administration.

"There's a lot of distrust of this administration and implementing the law," he said.

Obama's statement during the State of the Union that he would go it alone if he couldn't work with Congress "sort of breeds this kind of distrust," Cantor said. "And I think we're going to have to do something about that in order to see a way forward on immigration."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told the Hill he didn't see any way the Democrat-controlled Senate and GOP-led House could agree on immigration reform legislation this year.

"I think we have sort of an irresolvable conflict here," he told reporters after he met with the Senate GOP conference. "The Senate insists on comprehensive [legislation]. The House says it won't go to conference with the Senate on comprehensive and wants to look at [it] step by step.

"I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place," he said.

The Senate passed legislation last June after Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise on a broad overhaul, but the House has not acted on it, expressing a preference to take a more piecemeal approach.

Speaking to reporters last week, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said his caucus welcomed the principles drafted during the Republican retreat, but they need some fleshing out.

"But we think it's a positive step" that the Republican leadership is saying the issue ought to move forward.

In a Q-and-A about the leadership's immigration principles, Boehner said the focus of Congress should be on creating jobs and growing our economy.

"Reforms to our immigration system will accomplish those goals and address a serious national security issue," he said. "Under our current immigration construct, we are unable to capitalize on our full economic potential and are putting at risk the security of our nation, which depends on our ability to secure our borders, enforce our laws, improve channels for legal entry, and identify who is here illegally."

But while immigration reform may have stalled on Capitol Hill, discussions about America's borders and inhabitants burned the cyber highway after Coca-Cola aired a commercial during the Super Bowl in which "America the Beautiful" was sung in different languages as multicultural images of every-day life flashed across the screen.

Conservative radio firebrand Rush Limbaugh, who's been highly critical of GOP leadership for signaling a willingness to move on immigration reform, originally said he thought "maybe the Republican leadership was behind the Coke commercial," Politico reported.

The ad has been praised as a demonstration of multiculturalism and ripped as disruptive because of the immigration reform debate in Washington.

Limbaugh later took back his comments about the Coke ad, saying companies were just trying to sell their product.

Another popular conservative radio personality, Glenn Beck, also criticized the ad, calling it divisive and politicized amid the immigration debate.

"I said, 'Why? You need that to divide us politically?' Because that's all this ad is," Beck said during a radio broadcast. "It's an in-your-face [ad] -- and if you don't like, if you're offended by it, then you're a racist. If you do like it, well then you're for immigration, that's what it is. You're for progress. That's all this is, is to divide people. ...

"I don't have a problem with the Coke ad, except I think it's going to be used to divide people," Beck said. "And I don't know if that was Coke's intention or not."

Tweets for and against the ad burned up the Twitterverse after the ad aired and flooded Coke's Facebook page. An online "boycott Coke" campaign was started.

"Dear Coke commercial.... DO NOT sing my Country's song of Freedom in a different language," one post read.

E! Online wrote that all the praise and scorn may have drowned out one historical note about the ad, per a tweet:

"Per GLAAD: The Coke commercial is the first time that a gay family has been included in a Super Bowl ad."

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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