John Boehner, sipping a fine whine

    John Boehner is a standard country-club Republican who’s happily hard-wired to wave the party flag (low taxes, fewer regs), pass the occasional bipartisan law (because sometimes it’s necessary), then kick back at day’s end with good buddies and a good wine. But much to his dismay,  he has long been stuck in the tea-party clown car.

    Is there a worse job in politics than being House Speaker at a time when the majority has zip interest in governing? No wonder Boehner’s lid blew off the other day, when he openly mocked the tea-partyers who refuse to move the GOP into the 21st century on immigration reform. As a standup comic he’s no Louis C. K., but he did a nice job of distilling the tea-party mentality to a fine whine.

    On a visit to his Ohio district, he essentially told his audience that immigration reform remains in limbo because his rank and file is too gutless to deal with it. And Boehner knew that his mockery was being recorded. He eyed the rear of the room and said, “This guy’s back there with a camera. But here’s the (tea party) attitude: ‘Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard.’ You should hear ’em. We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems, and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to….I’ve had every brick and bat and arrow shot at me over (immigration reform) just because I wanted to deal with it.”

    You’ve got to feel bad for Boehner. His whole philosophy – “we get elected to make choices…to solve problems” – is so pre-2010. The tea-party mentality is to solve squat, to grandstand for the sake of symbolism (50 Obamacare repeals), to view bipartisan compromise as an act of betrayal. And their refusal to OK substantive immigration reform – despite strong mainstream support for reform –  is Exhibit A.

    Boehner has been twisting and turning on this issue for several years now, like a caged bird trying to fly. He has forever oscillated between intolerant talk (to reassure his tea-party troops) and tolerant rhetorical gestures (to reassure the GOP’s business wing, which wants immigration reform; and to buck up the GOPers who know that unless the party becomes friendlier to Hispanics, it’s probably toast in future presidential elections). Sometimes he’s riding shotgun in the tea-party clown car, other times he’s trying to steer it.

    Back in 2010, when Boehner was asked whether he’d support any path-to-legalization reform, he said no: “If people want to become citizens, they need to go home (and) get in line.” But a few days after Mitt (self-deportation) Romney lost Hispanic voters by a whopping 44 percentage points in the 2012 election, Boehner said of immigration reform, “This isue has been around far too long. I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, and others can find common ground.”

    But in 2013, after the Senate passed a comprehensive reform (a path to citizenship, with conditions) and teed it up for the House, Boehner said no: “I’ll make it clear that we have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill.” Then, this past January, he called on his rank and file to support a reform bill that would offer adult undocumented immigrants a path to legal status (but not citizenship); as for the children who were brought here illegally, Boehner’s reform would offer them “an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship.”

    Boehner floated his trial balloon, and the tea-party troops promptly shot it down. Three months went by. Then, on April 18, The Wall Street Journal reported that Boehner is still hot for reform; he reportedly told a group of donors that he’s “hellbent on geting this done this year.” But a Boehner spokesman later insisted that “nothing has changed,” that no reform effort was in the offing. And now we have the boo-hoo video, which suggests that Boehner darn well wishes that reform was in the offing.

    Alas, he seems fated not to be master of his domain – and, on this crucial issue, Republicans will remain outside the political mainstream. As evidenced by the aforementioned bipartisan poll – conducted by a Democratic firm, working with a Republican firm – 64 percent of Americans (including 62 percent of swing independents) favor “providing a path to citizenship.” Even grassroots Republicans, by a narrow 50-45 margin, support a path to citizenship. But the right-wing nativists in Boehner’s caucus hold sway, so it’s checkmate. Unless Boehner decides to pass reform with mostly Democratic votes, and thus lose his speakership.

    No wonder Boehner mocked his caucus in that video. His frustration was palpable. He’s hip to a political truism that the tea-partyers continue to ignore – a truism recently articulated by Fernando Espuelas, a talk show host on Univision: “Most Republicans on Capitol Hill seem to have no clue about what immigration reform means to Latino voters….It stands as a proxy for societal respect.”

    In other words, if Latinos continue to feel that Republicans are disrespecting them, they will not vote for Republicans – and in the ’16 presidential race, the GOP can probably say goodbye to Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Florida. As one in-depth report warned 13 months ago “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, they will not pay attention to (the candidate’s) next sentence…They will close their ears.”

    So wrote the Republican National Committee.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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