As the divided Congress stands at a stalemate over how to move forward on several big ticket items stuck on the legislative agenda, House Speaker John Boehner says President Barack Obama must rebuild trust with Congressional Republicans before any substantive immigration reform will come up for consideration in the House this year.
"One of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a news conference Thursday. "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."
Illustrating that distrust, Boehner pointed to Obama's unilateral moves to change the timeline for implementing the new health care law and the president's widely publicized intent to circumvent Congress on several other issues through executive orders.
"I never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year [on immigration reform] and the reason I said that we need a step-by-step common-sense approach to this is that so we can build trust with the American people that we're doing this the right way," Boehner said. "Now he's running around the country telling everyone that he's going to keep acting on his own, keeps talking about his phone and his pen. And he's feeding more distrust about whether he's committed to the rule of law."
Despite Boehner's comments, the White House remains optimistic that comprehensive immigration reform can be achieved this year.
"We've seen significant movement among Republicans on this issue and it is heartening to see that Republican leaders in Congress, including the Speaker of the House and others, identify immigration reform as a necessary priority. That's a good thing," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the daily briefing. "Nothing like this - nothing as important, nothing as comprehensive - ever comes fast or easy in Washington so this won't be any different."
Across the aisle at the Capitol, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi credited Boehner for trying to move immigration reform forward "in good faith," and urged the speaker not to give up.
"Why don't we just pack up and go home?" Pelosi, D-Calif., said sarcastically in reaction to the notion that the prospect for immigration reform is dead. "What we're supposed to do is legislate and not make up excuses as to why we don't. And so, that's not a reason not to do an immigration bill. That's an excuse not to do it."
Boehner stressed that Republicans will "continue to discuss" an immigration overhaul in the coming weeks but before moving any measures forward on the House floor, he said President Obama must "demonstrate to the American people and to my colleagues that he can be trusted to enforce the law as it is written."
"The president's asking us to move one of the biggest bills of his presidency, and yet he's shown very little willingness to work with us on the smallest of things," he said. "I have made clear for 15 months the need for the Congress and the administration to work together on the issue of immigration reform. It needs to get done. I'm going to continue to talk to my members about how to move forward, but the president is going to have to do his part as well."
Pressed about the speaker's complaint that the president's executive actions have exacerbated a lack of trust, Carney stressed that immigration reform must be achieved through Congress and he underscored that the president has worked across the aisle.
"It requires legislation. That's why we have worked with members of both parties, why we support bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate with a significant majority - legislation that doesn't reflect word-for-word the way the president would have written the bill, but does reflect his principles very much so, and why we support efforts to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform in the House," he said.
While Republicans struggle to come together on a plan to increase the debt limit while making reforms to drive down the federal debt, the speaker said discussions within the House Republican Conference will continue before leadership considers moving on a clean debt limit increase.
"We're still looking for the pieces to this puzzle, but listen, we do not want to default on our debt, and we're not going to default on our debt," Boehner pledged. "We're in discussions with members about how we can move ahead. We've got time to do this. We're going to continue to work at it."
"Mother Theresa is a saint now but, you know, if the Congress wanted to make her a saint and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn't get 218 Republican votes," he added.