Thursday, November 6, 2014 9:23 pm
The top Republican in Congress said Thursday it was time to address US immigration reform but warned President Barack Obama would “poison the well” if he acts unilaterally after the Republicans’ election victory.
Speaking a day after his Democrats suffered a crushing defeat and lost their majority in the Senate, Obama said Wednesday he was ready to work with Republicans but struck a defiant tone on immigration, threatening to take executive action on the divisive issue by year end.
Obama had considered reforming the US immigration system in recent months but postponed the move in a bid to shield Democrats and avoid energizing Republican voters ahead of the election.
But by wielding his presidential power on the issue, Obama will set off an explosive debate in the new Congress just as jockeying begins in the 2016 presidential race.
“I’ve made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally on his own, outside of his authority, he will poison the well and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters in his first press conference since Tuesday’s election.
Boehner said he looked forward to finding “common ground” with Obama on issues like energy production and tax reform.
But he insisted acting alone on immigration would backfire for Obama.
“When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself,” Boehner said. “He’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”
Moments later, however, Boehner acknowledged that getting legislation on comprehensive immigration reform moving in Congress remained a priority.
“It is time for the Congress of the United States to deal with a difficult issue in our society,” he said. “This immigration issue has become a political football over the last 10 years or more — it’s just time to deal with it.”
On Wednesday, the likely new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell also warned the president, saying acting unilaterally on immigration without votes in Congress would be “like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
The Senate passed historic, bipartisan legislation on comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 when Democrats were in control but it foundered in the House where conservative Republicans branded attempts to bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows as amnesty.
Republicans also accuse Obama of failing to enforce border security laws that are already on the books.
The political row was exacerbated by the flow of thousands of unaccompanied children across the southern US border earlier this year.