Saturday, May 3, 2014 | 2:03 a.m.
House Speaker John Boehner seems to be making noises that he is ready to finally become his own man. But they may be just that ... noises.
The question around here is whether he will take on the hard-right conservatives in his own Republican majority on a key issue with midterm elections looming or is just paying lip service to independence, whether he is willing to hit a line drive or just a bunt in favor of some sort of immigration reform.
He certainly got the GOP old guard and media juices flowing with remarks in his Ohio homeland mocking the radicals in his caucus who have been thwarting any attempt to come to an overdue solution to the nation’s growing problems with citizenship. The Tea Party Republicans have blocked consideration of a bipartisan Senate-adopted bill that would provide a path for 11 million illegal residents to become legal, and the odds are that position will prevail through the midterm elections.
Among the questions being asked by Boehner’s seemingly increasing exasperation with the House hard noses who regard almost any approach to relieving the immigration pressures other than more stringent border control and increased deportation is whether the speaker plans to stay in his job or retire. It would surprise no one if the latter was the case despite denial from those around him. Why would anyone wish to stay in a job that is ruled by a mob?
Boehner has no one to blame but himself, actually. He has shown great reluctance during his tenure to buck the party’s fiercest conservatives and in the process has lost the respect of a huge number of main-line Republicans both in his own caucus and the party generally. He is fully aware of this, and in remarks reportedly made in Las Vegas recently, he was quoted as saying he was “hell-bent” on taking up the immigration issue this year.
Back in Ohio, in his home district, he poked fun at the most conservative members of the party, saying in a high-pitched voice that their attitude was: “Ooh, don’t make me do this. Ooh, this is too hard.”
Meantime, strategists from the party’s middle contend that the only way the GOP will be able to crack the Democrats’ hold on the White House in 2016 will be to recognize the changing voter demographic and court a sizable number of ballots from the country’s huge Hispanic population, the largest of America’s minority groups.
That can be accomplished only by significantly cleaning up the immigration policy and affording a means of legitimate entry into the system either through controlled work visas and other gimmicks or complete citizenship, especially in the southern border states where the problem is the most aggravated. George W. Bush tried by introducing legislation with that aim but once again was thwarted by his own party in Congress.
Boehner has been in this position before. He established a set of guidelines in January that would include a citizenship path, albeit a long one. Conservative opposition prevailed, however, and he withdrew the guidelines a week after releasing them. This of course tempers hope that he is ready now to take on the party’s retro elements, many of whom would build an 8-foot fence along the entire border with Mexico, ignoring the fact most of those engaged in this kind of work today would be among the deported. Who would build it?
While there seemed little chance still for getting the issue considered before the election, some speculated that Boehner’s “hell-bent” statement meant he would take it up in a lame duck session, also very difficult considering the fact there would be a small, barely two-month window of opportunity.
At this stage, congressional Republicans seem confident about success in the midterms if they aren’t forced to take on such a controversial subject. Although Democrats apparently are bouncing back somewhat, they still could lose the Senate, leaving the entire Congress in the hands of the GOP. Republican leaders are concentrating on recapturing at least some lost support among female voters and hammering away at the president and the Affordable Care Act.
One thing is certain. Boehner hasn’t much time left to prove he is a stand-up leader, that he is his own man.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.