It's worth noting that there's no direct proof that Obama would not enforce border security. Immigration reform advocates frequently point out the president's record levels of deportations, and their calls for executive action to halt them have so far gone stubbornly unheeded. And the Senate immigration bill that passed last year would have spent billions on border security and interior enforcement – something that even the top backer of those border security measures, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said was "probably overkill."
Boehner's requirement that Obama "earn back trust" in the eyes of the American people or House Republicans is also very vague. The speaker offered no specific criteria for the president to meet, although Congress and the White House are continuing to grapple over the debt ceiling and unemployment insurance – both areas that could be ripe for negotiations.
Bottom line: many Republicans, mindful of their constituents' dislike of the president and his signature health care law, are simply wary to work with Obama on a controversial issue in an election year, and they believe there's no downside to punting to next year.
Since the beginning of the push on immigration reform, Republicans have made clear that their top priority is to "secure the border first." But what constitutes border security for the House GOP Conference is relatively undefined. Unlike in the Senate bill, it's never been put down in legislation. Does a secure border mean drones? More fencing? Boots on the ground? And how costly is that proposition?
Boehner realized that the border security piece of the puzzle – not to mention unresolved issues over worker visas and legalization for undocumented immigrants – would be hard to resolve this year.
So what happens next?
Perhaps a smaller piecemeal bill on immigration reform could happen at some point during the year but as long as border security remains an issue and GOP lawmakers don't want to take the plunge, immigration reform in 2014 seems more unlikely than ever today.
—By Luke Russert of NBC News. Carrie Dann contributed.