POLITICS
11/21/2014 10:15 am ET Updated Nov 22, 2014

John Boehner Vows GOP Will 'Rise To This Challenge' Of Obama On Immigration

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed Friday to push back against President Barack Obama's executive action shielding up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation, accusing him of sabotaging any chances of comprehensive legislative action to reform the immigration system.

The president announced Thursday his intentions to shield from deportation up to 4 million parents of American citizens and up to 1 million other people who live in the United States without proper documentation, prompting howls of rage from Republicans.

Boehner said he would not stand by and let Obama accomplish his plan, but did not say how or when.

"With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek. And as I told the president yesterday, he's damaging the presidency itself," Boehner said in a news conference outside his Capitol Hill office.

"In the days ahead, the people's House will rise to this challenge," Boehner added. "We will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk. We will listen to the American people, we will work with our members, and we will work to protect the constitution of the United States."

The White House has argued that Boehner and his members have had more than a year and a half to act on immigration legislation passed by the Senate last year, but failed. Boehner had ordered his caucus to draft principles for immigration reform, and to set about a piecemeal process of writing individual laws to address the situation, but none of that bore fruit.

Friday, Boehner said the failure was Obama's fault because the president refused to work with Boehner, and insisted on taking executive action on things like health care that Republicans opposed.

"The president repeatedly suggested that he was going to unilaterally change immigration law, and he created an environment where the members would not trust him," Boehner said. "Trying to find a way to work together was virtually impossible, and I warned the president over and over that his actions were making it impossible for me to do what he wanted me to do."

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was quick to fire back.

"Speaker Boehner has led some of the most obstructive, unproductive and self-destructive Congresses in the history of our nation," said Drew Hammill in a statement. "Today, in the face of real leadership from the president, Speaker Boehner announced he will continue to surrender his gavel to the most radical and irresponsible anti-immigrant voices of his party."

"Republicans have a choice: act productively on immigration, or waste taxpayer dollars on yet another legal vendetta against President Obama or Republican Government Shutdown," he added. "President Obama has announced strong actions to restore accountability to our broken immigration system. Republicans continue to scramble for excuses for their own failure of leadership."

It is unclear what actions Boehner can take. Some of his members have urged trying to use the looming Dec. 11 deadline to fund the government as leverage, but Obama's actions don't depend on funding from Congress. Republicans likely would have to pass fresh legislation to curb the executive orders, but that would fail in the Senate, at least while Democrats are in control for the rest of the year.

Democrats have repeatedly called on Boehner to act on the Senate reform bill. Asked Friday if he would return to any of the work he ordered on immigration reform earlier in the year, Boehner declined to answer, suggesting that was not likely.

"We have a broken immigration system. The American people expect us to work together to fix it, and we ought to do it in the democratic process, moving bills through the people's House, through the Senate, and to the president's desk," he said.

In a Vine video posted Thursday, Boehner noted that Obama himself has said he can't act like a king or emperor to go around Congress:

Boehner repeated that line Friday, but the White House has been walking back Obama's words to that effect, saying his actions ordered last night don't go nearly as far as he'd like, and that he was talking about the more extensive steps that he believes are necessary.

Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser to Obama, told reporters at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that he believes Boehner is well-intentioned on immigration and wants to get it done. He said the administration won't rule anything out yet, including working with Congress on smaller measures rather than a comprehensive bill.

"We haven't changed our position in terms of if they want to do something piecemeal, as long as they have the intention of doing the whole thing, we're willing to look at that," he said. "You have to look at the individual pieces. It's such a blank slate because the Republicans have literally done nothing in the House on this front, on immigration generally."

Pfeiffer said it would be "illogical" for Republicans to refuse to work with the president on other issues because he is taking action on immigration.

"The equivalent would be if the president said, 'Well, if you pass legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that will poison the well and I refuse to work with you on anything else,'" he said. "That's an illogical approach, and it's sort of the third-grade equivalent of taking your ball and going home."

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook. Elise Foley contributed reporting.

This piece has been updated to include comments from Dan Pfeiffer.

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