THE BLOG
11/15/2013 12:16 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Immigration and a Weak-Willed John Boehner

Congress has recently hit a new low of 9 percent approval rating according to Gallup, finally reaching into those symbolic single digits. This is largely because they have been historically unproductive. This has been particularly painful for the immigrant community since the 2012 election was seen as a referendum on several issues: the economy, Obamacare and immigration. With Mitt "Self-Deportation" Romney being soundly beaten, all eyes were on immigration reform to be the first issue tackled and resolved in 2013. Republicans, the old immigration obstacle, would finally agree after Obama won 77 percent of the Latino vote.

So far, they haven't even come close.

There are a plethora of ills which are currently gumming up the works of Congress, from irrational constituencies gaining power and running wild, to members of Congress fearing primaries more than general elections. In the eye of this perfect storm of dysfunction stands one man who has the power to pull the plug on the worst of it and start accomplishing major legislation. He has, however, allowed himself to be ragdolled by members of Congress whose expressed views are national embarrassments, often garnering them criticism from their own party. His name is John Boehner (R-OH), and he is the Speaker of the House.

"I'm trying to find some way to get this thing done," said Boehner of immigration reform to a group of young people when a 13 year old girl explained her father's deportation. When you look at his actions of late, however, it seems as though immigration is not a priority for Boehner: "...frankly, I'll make clear that we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate [immigration] bill."

The Senate immigration bill is far from perfect: the immigrant rights community, as well as many fiscal conservatives, are torn over the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which spends roughly $40 billion on border security over 10 years. This is often in large handouts to specific weapons and prison companies, so much so Senator Leahy called the amendment a "Christmas wish list for Haliburton." This imperfect bill, however, was supported by business (Chamber of Commerce), labor (AFL-CIO), much of the immigrant rights community, Democrats, Republicans and many other important, relevant groups.

In the end, although the Senate bill passed with a decisive 68 votes, Boehner refused to allow the legislation to be taken up in the House. He cited the Hastert Rule that everything he takes up must be supported by a majority of the majority in the House. The Hastert Rule, however, is an informal rule that is completely non-binding.

For a bit of perspective, consider that the final vote that ended the incredibly unpopular shutdown in the House was 285-144. If 144 Republicans in the House still think that shutting down the government to try to get Obama to defund the Affordable Care Act was a good idea, the Hastert Rule does nothing but serve as an impassable roadblock to reform.

With the Congressional calendar grinding down to less than two weeks of working days, the politics on both sides is uncertain. While Democrats want reform and a win, they also want to be able to use the fact that Republicans once again derailed immigration reform against the GOP. Although the GOP "Autopsy Report" called specifically for immigration reform, Republicans do not want to anger their base or appear to lose a battle over immigration reform when they had previously staked out anti-immigrant positions. In addition, it is one more thing a primary opponent can be extreme on and attract primary voters looking for the furthest-right candidate they can find.

The dysfunction is not in one chamber of Congress only: during the background check for gun purchases vote, we were reminded of the shortcomings of our Senate. The House, however, is certainly the more dysfunctional of the two chambers, setting us on schedule to have the least productive Congress in our history. While there are attempts to create some legislation, such as Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) comprehensive bill or Eric Cantor's (R-VA) KIDS Act, these seem to be nonstarters: Nancy Pelosi is a Representative from San Francisco and former Speaker of the House under the Democrats, and Cantor's own party is fighting him of the KIDS Act.

When the history books look back on this era of politics, there will be a small section called "John Boehner: Bottleneck of Progress." Even though the House is chaotic, there were enough Republicans lined up behind immigration reform to likely pass the Gang of 8 bill if Boehner called it to the floor; our current lack of a functioning immigration system is due to Boehner being bullied by members of the "Crazy Caucus" like Louie Gohmert (R-TX) or Steve King (R_IA) who want no reform on immigration, and are often comically vitriolic about this. Whether or not we will be able to escape this era of a small constituency within the House doing everything they can to undermine effective governance soon is entirely up to Boehner. He seems to care neither about the plight of our immigrant population, the smooth operation of government, or his own legacy as possibly the worst Speaker of the House this country has ever suffered.