No Easy Path Forward As House Republicans Meet On Immigration

The Senate's giant step forward has collided with the brick wall of the Republican-controlled House

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Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Speaker of the House John Boehner during a press conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2013.

When House Republicans gather for a private conclave at the Capitol Wednesday to map out their strategy for dealing with immigration reform, they will have plenty of options to choose from—and an obstacle blocking each one.

The House GOP could take up the Senate bill that passed June 27 with strong bipartisan support, which includes changes to immigration enforcement, security and visa policies the party has long sought. But Republican leaders have vowed not to. It can scramble to complete an alternative comprehensive bill, but efforts to do so have sputtered for months. The most likely scenario is for the House to junk comprehensive reform and adopt a piecemeal approach many members prefer, but which Democrats have ruled out.

In short, the Senate’s giant step forward two weeks ago has collided with the brick wall of the Republican-controlled House. For supporters of immigration reform, the elation has given way to grudging acceptance of the hard slog ahead. Backers who once boasted the bill would be on President Obama’s desk this summer are now conceding the battle is likely to rage at least into the fall. And despite the powerful forces arrayed behind the bill, no one seems certain how the House will handle it. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Republican activist Grover Norquist, who supports the Senate bill. “There’s not some obvious end game.”

(MORE: Senate Plan to Militarize Border Draws Backlash)

It’s not any clearer to the players inside the Capitol. “We’re all over the map,” says Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, a former immigration lawyer from Idaho who has become an influential voice within the conference on the issue. “We can end up with another Obamacare if we don’t do this right.”

A path may emerge after the House Republican summit Wednesday, where House leaders will attempt to suss out the concerns of rank-and-file members so that it can plot a path forward. On Tuesday, however, the GOP is split over what constitutes the right approach.

One faction would consider supporting a path to citizenship, which Democrats insist upon, if certain enforcement standards are assured. Others want modest reforms, and are open to legalizing some of the 11 million people estimated to be living the U.S. illegally, like the so-called DREAMers, but not until enforcement benchmarks are met. Another bloc of as many as 50 Republicans is resistant to doing anything at all. “I don’t see enthusiasm to do a large-scale path to citizenship,” says Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, a member of the House GOP leadership.

Without one, Democrats have threatened to walk. “Without a path to citizenship, there is not going to be a bill,” New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, the lead Democratic negotiator, said Tuesday. For months, a popular theory held that the House would pass one or more small-scale bills, then send those measures to a conference with the Senate, where a path to citizenship could be slipped in, setting up a bipartisan vote engineered by House and Senate leaders. But Schumer on Tuesday shot down that notion.

“To go to conference with various pieces without a path to citizenship … is a path to a cul-de-sac, to no immigration bill,” Schumer told reporters. “I don’t think you can get Democrats to vote for things without a path to citizenship. It was our bottom line from the beginning.”

Part of this is theatrical sparring, with both sides observing the Washington ritual of retreating to your corners to issue ultimatums before making moves to the middle. But the lines being drawn make a deal more difficult. If Republicans won’t offer a path to citizenship and Democrats won’t go to conference without one, there is little room for compromise. “Then it dies,” Labrador shrugs. “If something dies because it doesn’t have a path to citizenship, it will be the Democrats’ fault for being unreasonable.”

(PHOTOS: The Ground Zero of Immigration: El Paso by Reed Young)

For their part, backers of the bill believe that the political incentives for the GOP are tilted so heavily toward reform that enough House Republicans will buckle. “The business communities want it. The communities of faith want it. The political consultant class, which tells you what the Republican Party needs, wants it. Even if you can get re-elected in your monochromatic House district, you don’t get to govern” if immigration blocks a path to the White House, Norquist says. “This is team ball.”

“If Boehner and a critical mass of leaders in the House decide the future of the GOP depends on it, there is a bipartisan majority that can pass the bill,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration reform group. “If Boehner and company can’t figure out how to get to yes, they’re going to make a historic mistake.”

But Sharry concedes that advocates may have to prepare for “Plan B”—a campaign to batter Republicans in 2016 for derailing the best shot at reform in a generation. Meanwhile, the White House could mull whether to take executive action to issue work permits to large numbers of workers, as he did for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants at the height of the 2012 election.

But as House Republicans meet, Democrats are left with few cards to play, having already handed over concessions on citizenship, border security and visa programs during Senate negotiations. “You can have a House bill that has cosmetic differences from the Senate bill,” says Sharry. “But if it’s significantly further to the right, you won’t get the Democrats to vote for it. So I do think it’s the Senate bill or a reasonable facsimile that is the end point.”

Meanwhile, key members of the Republican pundit class are ramping up their campaign to scuttle reform. “There is no case for the bill, and certainly no urgency to pass it,” conservative writers Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry wrote in a a joint op-ed published Tuesday. “If Republicans take the Senate and hold the House in 2014, they will be in a much better position to pass a sensible immigration bill.”

Kristol and Lowrey are in the minority among establishment Republican figures, but their argument for waiting to address immigration is gaining currency among House Republicans. “I’d rather identify the issues we agree on and work on those,” Rep. Lankford told reporters. “If we have issues we can’t settle, let’s put them off for another year.”

Advocates of immigration reform are weary of waiting. And though the optimism of recent weeks has dimmed, advocates say the campaign remains on track. With a bill this large, on a topic that has bedeviled lawmakers, a deal “will look like it’s about to fall apart at least three times before it gets done,” Norquist says. Supporters must hope he is right, because as it stands now, more paths seem to lead to failure than final passage.

MORE: In Historic Vote, Senate Passes Bipartisan Immigration Bill

23 comments
therealdude
therealdude

Politically, it's a lose-lose issue for Republicans either way. If they pass it with a path to citizenship, they approve millions of likely Democratic voters. If they don't, they may drive even more Hispanics to the Democratic party, which is likely tomorrow's majority in this country...Not to mention increase Hispanic turn-out in 2014. Throw in the hardliner Tea Party folks and this issue is a real mess for the Republicans.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

“The reality is that the border is more secure today than at just about any time in this nation's recent history,” argues the Los Angeles Times. “The number of immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally at the nine major crossing points from California to Texas fell by an astounding 86 percent between 2006 and 2011, according to the Government Accountability Office. Overall, the number of immigrants coming illegally to the United States is at a 40-year low, having dropped from slightly more than 1 million in 2005 to fewer than 365,000 in 2012 and 2011, according to the Border Patrol.”

schroeder.cary
schroeder.cary

The tea party can block the vote and then make state laws that will keep hispanics from being able to vote.  win win for them just like in the south during the 60's.

grape_crush
grape_crush

> “If something dies because it doesn’t have a path to citizenship, it will be the Democrats’ fault for being unreasonable.”

Or, if something dies because it contains a path to citizenship, it will still be the Democrats' fault for being unreasonable. That about right, you hack GOPer Congressman? If Dems don't capitulate to the idiotic demands of your xenophobic fringe, then shame on them...

> “There is no case for the bill, and certainly no urgency to pass it,” conservative writers Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry wrote...

Have to invoke the Bill Kristol Reality Inversion Theory* on this one.

> And though the optimism of recent weeks has dimmed, advocates say the campaign remains on track.

It's been interesting to watch the nativist-teabagger wing of the GOP fighting against the corporatist-establishment side. If there's any hope for the bill, its that power brokers like Norquist can swing enough influence to marginalize the more vehement elements of their own party.

(*the theory stating that whatever Kristol's opinion is, you can expect the opposite to be true)


Lawgiver0
Lawgiver0

Hey you guys want to see this came exact story and thus the same comments in a couple of years? If there is a path to citizenship then I will start helping families from the village where I come from to immigrate to this country illegally and in fact I want to encourage people from all over the world, instead of applying for immigration, just come here illegally and demand for another path later, that way you and your family can be here NOW. why? Because we all have American dream of course.

And all you supporters for the path to citizenship now will support for another path right? Because none of the reasons have changed.

JdReader
JdReader

Boehner needs to dump those radical members in his conference and align with moderates to pass

this bill. Lately, Boehner's fear of alienating the zanies in his party have obstructed progress on most issues.

wrathbrow
wrathbrow

"Another bloc of as many as 50 Republicans is resistant to doing anything at all."

If elected people don't like the current laws/system but are not willing to do anything, it is time to  get/elect people who will do something or at least accept the current situation.

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

Thank you House Republicans for electing Hillary Clinton.  

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

Ha, just saw little Rich Lowry on CBS-his "Do Nothing" advice/threat to republicans is really sound council.

Of course he never will need to win an election, just continue to take a check from the money losing National Review. He literally couldn't be less vested in accomplishment. 

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

Actually the Rs already have an immigration reform plan: BenghazI!!!!

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

As ever the default assumption with the Boehner led House is that nothing will pass. He's simply too weak to get anything other than symbolic ACA repeal votes passed. 

Of course he could just send the Senate bill to the floor where it would pass but that would be the end of his Speakership. And being an impotent leader is far more important. 

tommyudo
tommyudo

@JdReader 

That would take some political "stones" which Boehner doesn't possess. He's a  self centered coward. Should be stray from orthodoxy, Eric Cantor has the shiv in his pocket ready to challenge him for the leadership role.

tommyudo
tommyudo

@OzarkGranny


If Hillary chooses to run she would win anyway. Any white male voters she might lose would be  more  than made up for by young urban women who often don't vote, and suburban moms, many of whom are GOP moderates.

I have never agreed with  a lunatic like Congressman Steve King, but he nails it when it comes to immigration reform -

“It would hurt Republicans, and I don’t think you can make an argument otherwise,” King said. “Two out of every three of the new citizens would be Democrats.”

Plus, any immigration plan with a path to citizenship that Obama would sign in a grand ceremony would rebound in his favor, and damned if the GOP is going to give Barack any glory whatsoever.


TyPollard
TyPollard

@Paul,nnto

"... being an impotent leader is far more important."

Eh, it's a living.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

@tommyudo @OzarkGranny You are correct.  The Teapublicans will take down the entire country if it will prevent Obama from succeeding.  (Evidence is that the Teapublicans caused the US credit rating to be lowered.)

tom.litton
tom.litton

@tommyudo @OzarkGranny Not passing it would hurt the GOP too.  There may not be many people that care about citizenship, but those that do, really really care.  

It may not help with the gerrymandered house districts, but it will create an up hill battle for many senate and presidential election going forward.

Plus the democrats can hammer them on hurting the economy, growing the deficit, not securing the border, etc. 

tom.litton
tom.litton

@tommyudo @tom.litton @OzarkGranny They see it, but they don't care.

They don't care because their constituents are conservative voters.  

Their constituents are conservative voters because their districts where specifically designed to be that way. 

tommyudo
tommyudo

@tom.litton @tommyudo @OzarkGranny 


The new  notion coming from those "brain surgeons" in the GOP is to forget the Latino vote - it's lost. Now concentrate on the "lost" white vote that haven't been coming to the polls in the last few elections, especially younger working class white voters. The idea of squeezing out every  younger white vote imaginable while pursuing a hard right line on social issues,   which many of these voters care about,  is an electoral loser, but this is where they are staking their claim. The Titanic is ready to hit an icerberg and none of them see it.