WASHINGTON - days after House Republicans unveiled a roadmap for an overhaul of the nation's broken immigration system, one of its backers said legislation is unlikely to pass during this election year.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said distrust of President Barack Obama runs so deep in the Republican caucus that he's skeptical the GOP-led House would pass any immigration measure. He said a plan that puts security first could only pass if lawmakers believe the administration would enforce it — an unlikely prospect given Republicans' deep opposition to Obama.
"This isn't a trust-but-verify, this is a verify-then-trust approach," Ryan said.
Last week, House Republicans announced their broad concerns for any immigration overhaul but emphasized they would tackle the challenge bill-by-bill. Immigration legislation is a dicey political question for the GOP. The party's conservative base opposes any measure that would create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally, but many in the party worry that failing to act could drive many voters to Democratic candidates. In 2012, Obama won re-election with the backing of 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 73 percent of Asian voters. The issue is important to both blocs.
Republicans have preemptively been trying to blame the White House for immigration legislation's failure, even before a House bill comes together. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said "there's a lot of distrust of this administration in implanting the law." And Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., last week warned that distrust of Obama would trump the desire to find a solution for the estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally.
"We just don't think government will enforce the law anyway," Rubio said, recounting conversations he's had with fellow Republicans.
House Republicans are pushing a piecemeal approach to immigration that puts a priority on security before considering a pathway for those here illegally to earn citizenship. That strategy runs counter to a comprehensive bill, passed through the Senate seven months ago with bipartisan support, that includes a long and difficult pathway to citizenship.
The White House, meanwhile returned to its position that any legislation must include a way for those living here illegally to earn citizenship and that the system cannot divide Americans into two classes — citizens and noncitizens.
"We ought to see a pathway to citizenship for people," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday. "We don't want to have a permanent separation of classes or two permanent different classes of Americans in this country."
Last week, Obama suggested that he's open to a legal status for immigration that falls short of citizenship, hinting he could find common ground with House Republicans.
"I'm going to do everything I can in the coming months to see if we can get this over the finish line," Obama said Friday.
Obama's flexibility was a clear indication of the president's desire to secure an elusive legislative achievement before voters decide in the fall whether to hand him even more opposition in Congress. Republicans are expected to maintain their grip on the House and have a legitimate shot at grabbing the majority in the Senate.
McDonough said the White House remains optimistic that legislation that includes citizenship could reach the president's desk: "We feel pretty good that we'll get a bill done this year."
Not so, countered Ryan, the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2012.
"Here's the issue that all Republicans agree on: We don't trust the president to enforce the law," he added.
Asked whether immigration legislation would make its way to Obama for him to sign into law, Ryan said he was skeptical: "I really don't know the answer to that question. That is clearly in doubt."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican and son of immigrants, said Congress needs to address the "completely backwards system" not because it's good politics for the GOP but because it's the right thing to do.
"If the president had been serious about this the last five years, we'd be further along in this discussion," Jindal said. "But I think it's also right the American people are skeptical."
Ryan spoke to ABC's "This Week." Cantor was interviewed on CBS' "Face the Nation." McDonough appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and CBS. Jindal spoke to CNN's "State of the Union."