WASHINGTON - House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday joined the Senate's top Republican in suggesting an immigration overhaul this year is unlikely, citing a lack of trust among the GOP toward President Obama.
"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," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., already threw cold water on immigration prospects Tuesday when he said there was an "irresolvable conflict" between the Senate's comprehensive legislative approach and the piecemeal approach sought by House Republicans.
"I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place," McConnell said.
The Democratic-controlled Senate passed last year a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration and border security laws that also included a pathway to citizenship for the up to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
The GOP-controlled House has not moved any immigration legislation in this Congress, but last week released legislative principles that reiterated support for a step-by-step legislative approach. The principles stopped short of support for a pathway to citizenship for adults, focusing instead on an ability to attain legal status.
Boehner said his rank-and-file lawmakers do not trust the president to enforce current laws, or implement a law as Congress intends, citing the administration's changes to implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the president's recent commitment to use executive authority to enact policy changes on a range of issues.
Boehner said the president is "running around the country telling everyone that he's going to keep acting on his own. ... And he's feeding more distrust about whether he's committed to the rule of law."
Democrats said they were discouraged but not defeated by Boehner's remarks. "He has not said, 'I'm not doing it.' He has not said, 'It's over.' He has said it will be very difficult. It is -- he's right, I agree with him," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., an architect of the Senate immigration bill. Schumer said Republican mistrust of Obama is not a new development and that he believes there remains a measure of good will to move legislation this year.
"I believe there's a good portion of the Republican leadership who wants to do a bill," he said.
Boehner maintained Thursday that he believes Congress will need to act, eventually. "This is an important issue in our country, it's been kicked around forever, and it needs to be dealt with," he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that Republicans face considerable intra-party pressure to not act this year. "Look, I think that the challenges within the Republican Party on this issue are well known, and they certainly don't have anything to do with the president," he said. Carney added that the White House remains optimistic because leading Republicans have edged the party closer to finding consensus.
"I think that there is a genuine recognition among leaders in the Republican Party that this is the right thing to do for our economy. It's the right thing to do for our middle class. It's the right thing to do for our businesses," Carney said.
America's Voice, a group that supports an immigration overhaul with a pathway to citizenship, said Republicans face considerable political risks if they choose not to act. "Do they want their vulnerable House members in Latino and immigrant-heavy districts to lose in 2014? Do they want to enter the 2016 election cycle, which is already starting, with the immigration issue unresolved and their party to blame?" said Lynn Tramonte, the group's deputy director.
However, Boehner's comments heartened opponents to the Senate bill. "If Boehner genuinely believes that this president cannot be trusted to enforce our immigration laws then that reason becomes the remedy and the job ahead is clear: Congress must immediately compel Obama to start enforcing existing laws and prevent him from further abusing his executive authority in the immigration realm," said Bob Dane, communications director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Contributing: David Jackson and Alan Gomez