In conversations over the last few months with Republican senators and congressmen trying to reform the immigration system, opposition within conservative ranks emerged as the No. 1 reason for the lack of progress and dismal outlook for reform. No one wanted to have the internal political fight and risk alienating motivated grassroots voters in a year when Republicans have a chance of winning back control of the Senate. The fear of a backlash from those voters is what Boehner himself referred to in a video where he mocked the political fear of some of his members.
Part of the backlash would have come from the fact that any legislation that became law would have required making a deal with a president who conservatives distrust, but on immigration reform, they didn’t trust other Republicans either. The voters of the 7th District in Virginia certainly didn’t trust Eric Cantor. Proof of conservative distrust in Republicans was also evident last summer in the widespread opposition to the Senate immigration legislation. The bill, passed with 14 Republican votes after an amendment by Republican Sens. Bob Corker and John Hoeven, secured increased funding and promises for border security. Immigration-reform skeptics challenged the provision—which was meant to give political cover to Republicans—and made the legislation dead on arrival in the House.
The president’s response to the death of reform in the House was to announce that he will take whatever executive actions possible. This ends an experiment in restrained presidential leadership. President Obama had not been making a showy push for immigration reform in part because Boehner, among others, had advised him that Republicans would have a harder time supporting anything the president championed too strongly. One House leadership aide says Obama kept his promise on immigration, but it was action on those other issues that made conditions too toxic.