WASHINGTON - Days after House Republicans unveiled a road map 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 on a bill-by-bill pace.
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 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 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.