WASHINGTON — The yearlong effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, which had the support of President Obama, Republican leaders, and much of American business and labor, was seriously imperiled Thursday when Speaker John A. Boehner conceded that it was unlikely he could pass a bill.
His pronouncement, amid mounting resistance from conservatives, significantly narrowed the window for success this year and left it to Obama to win the trust of Republicans.
Boehner’s remarks came a week after he and other House Republican leaders offered a statement of principles intended to win support for the measure. But, he said, House Republicans are not prepared to move forward in partnership with a Democratic administration that they believe will not fairly and impartially carry out the laws they pass.
“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,” he said, citing executive actions by the Obama administration that have changed or delayed the implementation of the president’s health care law.
The speaker’s words put the drive for immigration legislation in abeyance until tempers cool, some advocates in Congress said. But lawmakers on both sides of the issue conceded that the politics had turned sharply negative in recent days.
Tea Party activists have shifted their focus from cutting the federal budget deficit to thwarting what they call amnesty for those in the country illegally. Conservative groups have called for a clean sweep of the Republican leadership.
While reiterating his personal support for addressing the nation’s faltering laws to control the border, admit immigrants and workers, and handle the 11 million people in the country illegally, Boehner lamented, “I’ve never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year.”
Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, said Boehner’s comments were a recognition of reality.
“Obviously, the speaker had some goal to try to do something,” Sessions said. “But we were too far apart on substance to ever realistically expect an agreement with the Democrats.”
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, rejected the notion that the president had been an untrustworthy negotiating partner on immigration. His efforts to bolster border security and enforce immigration laws have angered many immigration advocates who back him on his legislative push.
“The challenges within the Republican Party on this issue are well known, and they certainly don’t have anything to do with the president,” Carney said, praising the Republican leadership for the progress it had made.
But that leadership appears to have made a sharp reversal. The speaker’s comments came two days after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, cited “irresolvable conflict” between the House and the Senate and said, “I don’t see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place.”