A group of religious leaders who are proponents of immigration reform say it would take a miracle to get the House to vote on an immigration bill and are praying House Speaker John Boehner was inspired enough by Pope Francis to make it happen.
Sure it’s a long shot, but Boehner’s leaving anyway, so what is there to lose, say those offering up prayer for the fall miracle.
“I think Boehner, in his heart, wants immigration reform to get done. This may be a moment to be able to move this and put it on the legislative agenda”” said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. “That would be nothing short of miraculous."
But the prayers are likely in vain. Beyond the obstacles of the legislative process required to get a vote on a bill, Boehner's office quickly squelched the idea of miracle making.
“As the Speaker has said repeatedly, the president’s illegal executive action poisoned the well on reform, and we don’t expect anything to change that fact over the next month," said Emily Schillinger, a Boehner spokeswoman. The executive action refers to President Barack Obama's authorization of programs that would defer deportations for some 5 million immigrants and provide them work permits. The programs are stymied in court.
Boehner, R-Ohio, made a surprise announcement Friday that he plans to retire at the end of next month. His news came the day after Pope Francis met with Boehner and made a plea on behalf of immigrants in a speech to Congress.
In his speech, the pope implored Congress and others to view immigrants as persons, see their faces and listen to their stories and to treat them with humanity. He invoked the Golden Rule.
“We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome,” he said.
Boehner, a Catholic, was seen teary-eyed during the pope’s public appearances and later acknowledged the emotional impact the pontiff’s visit had on him.
The evangelical coalition has 3,000 churches. Calls went out to pastors of the churches to pray for the immigration miracle and to call on their local congregations to do the same. The coalition also is sending out newsletters and making the plea on radio shows, Salguero said.
Others also are urging Boehner to depart with an immigration reform bang. Rep. Linda Sanchez, Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairwoman also asked for the immigration miracle Friday.
Boehner had previously wanted to take up immigration reform but decided against it after getting pushback from conservatives in the House who had made attempts to replace him as speaker.
But immigration proponents say now that he is freed of the potential political repercussions, he could call immigration legislation to a vote.
“He can allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform to go forward and leave the House knowing he had reopened a vital national dialogue with one of his final acts as speaker,” Hector Sanchez, chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda said.
Freeing himself politically to act against conservatives' wishes is what Boehner has done for himself by planning to step down. Disputes over ending federal funding of Planned Parenthood through legislation needed to keep all of government funded was steering the country to another government shutdown.
By announcing his departure from Congress, Boehner is able to get a short-term government funding bill passed without including language to strip Planned Parenthood of its money and avoid the shutdown. The short-term spending bill can pass with Democrats' help.
“You know the Bible says ‘Beware of false prophets,’ Boehner said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” over the weekend. “There are people out there, you know, spreading noise about how much can get done. I mean this whole notion that we are going to shut down the government in 2013 – this plan never had a chance.”
But what if the prayer isn’t answered and the miracle doesn’t happen?
“God does what God wants … If not, we’ll pray that the next speaker (bring immigration reform to a vote) … We’re going to keep our request and the pressure on,” Salguero said.