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House Speaker John Boehner recently announced Republicans would not be moving on any major immigration legislation any time soon, because GOP members simply don’t trust President Obama to faithfully enforce provisions he doesn’t like.
Boehner’s statement came less than a week after he and other House Republican leaders unveiled their key principles for immigration reform at a party retreat and expressed a desire to get something done.
According to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, what happened in between was a quick and boisterous revolt to the principles within the House Republican Conference. King is a longtime critic of the “comprehensive” approach to immigration reform and believes any legalization of people in the country illegally is tantamount to amnesty.
Listen to Radio America’s interview with King below:
He said many members were given no advanced notice of Boehner's immigration principles and were asked to give swift approval without much time to study them. But King said he was prepared anyway.
"We didn't have a chance to examine the document or look at it or edit it or make our contributions to it," King said. "It was, 'These are the principles we want to live by, and we don't want to talk about the immigration outside of this. We just want to talk about this document.'
"Well, I had read the document thoroughly through when the meeting started because my staff had picked it up from a left-wing website, and it was out there on the left-wing side, but not to the conservatives, not to our border security people," he said.
King said it didn't take long for the opposition to rise up among conservative members of the conference.
"Member after member stood up to the microphone and said, 'We don't need to move on this. We can't trust the president.' A very few of them said, 'I agree with your principles, but we shouldn't move now.' I put out my estimate that three to four-to-one inside that conference stood up to that microphone and opposed going forward on immigration," King said.
"Most of them understand that if we legalize people that are here, it is amnesty, that it does great damage to the rule of law, that there's no upside in it for Americans and certainly no upside in it for Republicans," he said, noting that GOP members were trumpeting the immigration principles at the end of the retreat but already knew it was going nowhere.
Late last week, Boehner poured cold water on the idea of major immigration legislation passing this year.
"I have never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year. And, frankly, one of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust," Boehner said. "There's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws, and it's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."
So did Boehner and other leaders ultimately agree that President Obama cannot be trusted, or is this a matter of acknowledging that the Republican votes for this plan simply aren't there? King said it's probably both.
"I've been making the argument for two-and-a-half years that the president can't be trusted, at least on immigration. He's violated his constitutional oath and the law, multiple times. So I would think that if the speaker had come to that conclusion, it's not the first time that he'd heard that argument," he said.
"But I think it was instead counting votes, not so much changing his conviction. He just knows that, at this point at least, he can't go forward with what he wants to do."
Perhaps most unsettling to King is that he sees the newly unveiled GOP immigration principles as largely a rerun of the Senate's comprehensive "Gang of Eight" bill that passed last year.
"This document, when you lay it down and you go through more than a thousand pages of the Senate's 'Gang of Eight' amnesty bill, this document encompasses the 'Gang of Eight's' amnesty bill. It would comply with this document with the exception of, perhaps, blatantly promising the path to citizenship," King said. "That tells you how far this document goes. It's wide open. It's broad, and there's a reason that the left-wing websites had it before the members of Congress had it."
While immigration reform legislation might stay on the back burner for this year's midterm elections, the question now is whether GOP members believe it is possible for Obama to restore enough trust over the remainder of his term for lawmakers to take up the issue once again.
King said he can't imagine that happening but believes Republican leaders do.
"Listening to the speaker's statement, he leaves room for trust to be rebuilt with the president. The minute I heard that, I draw a different conclusion, which is once you lose that trust, to restore that is just very close to an impossibility. I don't know why anyone would think that a president who has, over and over again, simply trampled over the legislative branch of government and waved his ink pen at us and said that he'll run the country if we don't do what he tells us to do," he said, "I don't know why anyone would trust a president like that to essentially change his spots afterward."
King also laughed off suggestions from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that Congress pass reform but hold off on implementation until a new president is in office as another "ploy" by those looking to pass amnesty.
The congressman said Republicans also just dodged a major election-year bullet by not plowing forward on immigration legislation. He said pollster Scott Rasmussen recently told the Conservative Opportunity Society the move would be devastating to the party.
"Speaking of immigration and Republicans taking it up, he said, 'I can't think of a stupider thing for your conference to take up,'" said King, quoting Rasmussen. "I agree with that. It allows the president and his party to split Republicans."
King argued that Obama's strategy can be seen in the president's holiday message from Hawaii earlier this year in which called for immigration reform, a hike in the minimum wage and extended unemployment benefits.
"Those three items have something in common," he said. "Each of them unifies Democrats and divides Republicans. That's the tactic. That's why he has a priority, because he wants to take our minds off of Obamacare and get Republicans fighting amongst themselves."