It only took a couple of days before John Boehner made clear that when it comes to his approach to legislating in the wake of the Republicans' victory in the midterms, absolutely nothing has changed. All that talk about "getting things done" and "showing they can govern"? Forget about it.
In his press conference the day after the election, President Obama got asked about immigration reform and repeated what he's been saying all along—that if Congress doesn't pass anything, he'll take some (as yet undisclosed) actions based on executive authority. He also noted for the umpteenth time that the Senate already passed a reform bill, one that included lots of gettin'-tough provisions demanded by Republicans, which Boehner refused to bring to a vote in the House even though it would have passed. He also emphasized that if Congress does pass a bill, it would supplant whatever executive actions he might take, so taking some executive actions might provide a nice inducement for them to do something.
So yesterday when Boehner had his own press conference, he got super-mad:
"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 of immigration reform moving in this Congress. It is as simple as that," he said. "When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he's going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path."
Let's think about this "poisoning the well" idea. Boehner is saying that if President Obama takes executive action, congressional Republicans will be angry and distrustful, which would make legislating harder. While up until now, they've been friendly and trusting toward Obama, and willing to work together.
Just a couple of days after the election, Boehner is already preparing excuses for why he failed. Why didn't immigration reform pass? Because Barack Obama is a big meanie!
That well was poisoned long ago, and it was Republicans who did the poisoning. This is an important reminder that the fundamental dynamic within the GOP—in which appeasing the party's right wing is the primary concern of the leadership—has not changed at all. In fact, it's been intensified. In both the House and Senate, the incoming GOP caucus will be more conservative than they are right now. The problem was never that John Boehner didn't think it was good for the country or his party to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the problem was that he didn't have the courage to stand up to the Tea Party right. And now there are even more of them.
Meanwhile over in the Senate, you'll have a combination of Republicans up for re-election in two or four years who will be increasingly nervous about a primary challenge from the right, and new members who hail from the Ted Cruz caucus. You think you'll get a yes vote for comprehensive reform from Tom Cotton, who claimed during the campaign that ISIS and Mexican drug gangs were conspiring to attack us via the Rio Grande? How about Joni Ernst, who talked about shooting government officials and believes the United Nations has a secret plan to force Iowa farmers off their land and relocate them to urban centers? Or James Lankford, who thinks too many American children are on ritalin "because welfare moms want to get additional benefits"? Is this the group of sensible moderates that is going to vote for comprehensive reform?
I'll bet that John Boehner would like nothing better than to have Barack Obama issue some executive orders on immigration. Then he'd have an easy answer every time someone asked when he was going to allow a vote on a comprehensive immigration package. What can I do? Obama poisoned the well. It's not my responsibility anymore.