President Obama on Tuesday said there’s a “narrow” window of two to three months for Congress to pass an immigration reform package.
“The closer we get to the midterm elections, the harder it is to get things done around here,” the president told a group of law enforcement officials on Tuesday. “We’ve got maybe a window of two to three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives.”
That’s one of the clearest indications we’ve received yet from Obama on his timeline for immigration reform.
The implied threat is that if the Republican-controlled House doesn’t act by the end of summer, then Obama will use his executive powers to cut back deportations. Here’s what Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, one of the few House Republicans pushing for an immigration reform package told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent in April:
“I’m convinced that if we don’t get it done by the August break, the president, who is feeling a lot of pressure from having not done anything on immigration reform, will feel that he has to act through executive action.”
Under pressure from immigrant-rights advocates, Obama announced a review of his administration’s deportation policies in March. Activist groups are frustrated by the record pace of deportations under the president and don’t see a realistic possibility of the House passing a bill this year.
The review has been humming along, but the timing of an announcement has been tricky for Obama.
On one hand, advocates want the president to act as quickly as possible. But pulling the trigger too soon could amplify charges from congressional Republicans that Obama has ignored the law, and would kill any remaining chance, however slim, of reaching a deal.
House Speaker John Boehner said at an event Monday in Texas that Obama is "going to have to do something that demonstrates some level of trustworthiness” to convince Republicans to consider passing a bill.
“While I feel strongly about the need to deal with immigration reform, I’ve got to bring these members along,” he added.
For the time being, Obama is trying to show that he is giving Republicans the chance to come to the table. The president said today that he would only sign a bill that includes certain principles, including a path to citizenship. But he said he is not “hell-bent on making sure that every letter” of the Senate-passed immigration bill — which is very unpopular among the House GOP — reaches his desk.
Obama praised Boehner and other leaders who believe immigration is “the right thing.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve got a handful of House Republicans right now who are blocking going ahead and letting legislation get to the floor,” he said.
If that doesn’t change, the pressure will only grow on Obama to act on his own. And today, the president gave us an indication of how long his patience will last.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.