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Ryan: Immigration Overhaul Off the Table Under Obama

Boehner, foreground, and Ryan after the Oct. 29 speaker election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Boehner, foreground, and Ryan after the Oct. 29 speaker election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Newly elected Speaker Paul D. Ryan wants Republicans to spend the remainder of the 114th Congress offering major policy ideas, except on immigration.  

Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that President Barack Obama has shown he cannot be trusted on immigration policy because he tried to circumvent Congress and make changes to immigration laws by executive order. “The president’s proven himself to be untrustworthy on this issue,” Ryan said. “I think if we reach consensus on something like border enforcement, interior security, that’s one thing. But I do not believe we should advance comprehensive immigration legislation with a president whose proven himself untrustworthy on this issue.”  

Still, Ryan said on other Sunday political talk shows that he wants Republicans to offer a vision for what they would do if they had full control of Washington.  

“I think we’ve been bold on tactics but not bold on policy,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We owe the country an alternative.”  

In that vein, Ryan is trying to distinguish himself from his predecessor, John A. Boehner. The former speaker shied away from bringing major bills to the floor unless he knew they could also pass in the Senate.  

“I told the members of our conference, ‘I cannot pick up where John Boehner left off. I can’t do things the same way,’” Ryan said.  

Divisions in the House GOP conference stymied an immigration overhaul in the last Congress, after the Senate passed a bipartisan bill in 2013. Many House Republicans balked over whether to give legal status to the estimated 11 million immigrants who are already in the United States illegally, and derided the Senate’s provision that would grant a pathway to citizenship as “amnesty.”  

Not advancing an immigration overhaul is something Boehner regrets, he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”  

“It is,” a regret, he said, “because reforming our immigration system, securing our borders, would be good for America. But unfortunately, the president kept poisoning the well, poisoning the well, to the point it was impossible.”  

The speaker’s comments on immigration come as the Republican Party is trying to boost its outreach to Hispanic voters ahead of the 2016 elections. The GOP ticket of Mitt Romney and Ryan in 2012 received only 27% of the Latino vote, according to exit polls. Meanwhile, Obama’s 71% national share among Hispanic voters in 2012 was the largest for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996, according to the Pew Hispanic Center .  

Ryan also will face difficulties uniting the conference on an approach to overhauling the immigration system, especially since he has said in the past that he supports providing a path for unauthorized immigrants to obtain legal status.  

In private, Ryan has told his colleagues he wouldn’t bring immigration legislation to the floor unless it had the support of a majority of the Republican conference.  

Asked on Fox News Sunday if he would adhere to the so-called Hastert rule on other bills as well, Ryan said, “On the big controversial issues of the day, I want to reach for not just a narrow majority; I want to get us to consensus.”

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