WASHINGTON -- Any chances for a comprehensive immigration overhaul to be signed into law this year were dashed Wednesday when Speaker John Boehner said the House would not negotiate with the Senate on the issue.
Mr. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the House would continue its piecemeal approach on immigration and border security but would not consider a bipartisan Senate bill that would create a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants in this country illegally. He also ruled out a negotiated compromise bill crafted by a House-Senate conference committee.
"I'll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill," Mr. Boehner told a Capitol Hill news conference.
The speaker's comments all but doomed passage of sweeping comprehensive immigration legislation this year.
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland accused House Republicans of being obstructionists. "I'm not sure what that means in terms of democracy working, of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and the Congress working," he said.
It is the second time in a week that Republican leaders said they would not vote on a comprehensive immigration bill this year. Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy of California said there was not enough time on the legislative calendar for the House to act this year.
Mr. Boehner's comments came moments before President Barack Obama met at the White House with national faith leaders to push Congress to act. The president spoke with the leaders about growing support for an overhaul of immigration by business and labor, law enforcement and faith leaders, evangelicals, the Roman Catholic Church and Republicans and Democrats, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. He said it sends a message to Washington: "Pass comprehensive immigration reform. Do it, you know, do it for your constituents. Do it because it's the right thing to do."
The decision by Republicans to push the issue into 2014, when chances for passage narrow further because of party primaries and congressional elections, drew the ire of Democrats and immigration advocates.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said Mr. Boehner's statement "does cast a dire outlook." But he said "political stubbornness" by Republicans could have political consequences with an electorate that favors immigration changes and efforts to address the large population of illegal immigrants. "If it doesn't happen in 2013, we will push even harder in 2014," Mr. Castro said. "If you avoid the voice of the American people, there is a price to be paid in November."
Last week, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which represents 2,400 churches in the state, unanimously passed a resolution calling for immigration overhaul. Pastor Tim Moore with the Walk Worthy Baptist Church in Austin said evangelicals have recently embraced a comprehensive overhaul. He voiced frustration over the politics played on the issue in Congress, noting that Republican leaders "are counting noses to see who needs cover in the primaries." He added, "I'm optimistic it will move in 2014, but it will be piecemeal."
National GOP leaders have urged the party to embrace an overhaul of immigration and reach out to minority groups, particularly Latinos who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the 2012 election.