House Shuffle

Comprehensive immigration-reform package is on life support in the House of Representatives

After the Gang of Eight's comprehensive immigration-reform package was loaded up with security measures—doubling the ranks of the Border Patrol and building another 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border—it passed the Senate with 68 votes.

But now that it has reached the House of Representatives, the bill appears to be dead on arrival.

After a meeting with House Republicans last week, Speaker John Boehner told the press that he won't take up the Senate bill because it does not have the support of a majority of his caucus.

"The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes," Boehner said at a news conference. "We're going to do our own bill, through regular order, and it will be legislation that reflects the will of our majority, and the will of the American people."

Boehner added that immigration reform "has to be grounded in real border security."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated her priorities for an immigration-reform package—and they included a path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million undocumented people now in the United States.

"Today and in the future, we must keep the momentum moving forward toward comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, protects our workers, reunites our families and has a path to permanent legal status that leads up to citizenship," Pelosi said.

It's the final element that is causing so much opposition from House Republicans, many of whom see a path to citizenship—even one such as the tough requirements in the Senate bill that requires background checks, fines and a process that would take, at a minimum, 13 years—as a form of amnesty that rewards immigrants who broke the law by entering the country illegally or overstaying their visas.

That conflict lies at the heart of the dispute over immigration reform. And with Boehner invoking the so-called "Hastert Rule" that requires a majority of his GOP House majority to go along with any final bill, the Republicans who oppose a path to citizenship hold the power for the moment.

Some pundits had suggested that Boehner could eventually allow an immigration bill to pass the House and then the House bill and the Senate bill could merge in a conference committee. At that point, the path to citizenship could be added and that compromise bill could pass the House with a majority of Democratic votes and handful of moderate GOP votes.

But Boehner appeared to rule out that option once again during his press conference last week.

"For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it's going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members," Boehner said.

In a column last week, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and National Review editor Rich Lowry argued that House Republicans should not allow a bill to go to the conference committee.

"In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill," they wrote. "House Republicans can't find any true common ground with that legislation. Passing any version of the Gang of Eight's bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing. House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart." 

The push for immigration reform came in the wake of the 2012 presidential election, in which GOP candidate Mitt Romney captured just 27 percent of the Latino vote. Given that Latinos are a growing percentage of the voting population, some Republicans—such as Arizona Sen. John McCain—see immigration as crucial to persuading Latinos to consider voting Republican. As the Republican National Committee noted in its electoral autopsy: "If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence."

But increasingly, GOP pundits are saying that rather than reaching out to Latinos, it makes more sense to try to boost white voter turnout.

But pundits on the right are increasingly downplaying the importance of the Latino vote and stressing the importance of getting more white votes. For example, Kristol and Lowry wrote: "At the presidential level in 2016, it would be better if Republicans won more Hispanic voters than they have in the past—but it's most important that the party perform better among working-class and younger voters concerned about economic opportunity and upward mobility. Passing this unworkable, ramshackle bill is counterproductive or irrelevant to that task."

Southern Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, who has reluctantly accepted the boosted border security in the Senate bill in exchange for a path to citizenship, told MSNBC this week that Boehner was stalling rather than addressing the immigration issue.

"Boehner is not talking about a bipartisan bill that's comprehensive," Grijalva said. "Boehner is not talking about bringing something to the floor so the House can work its will. So we talk between a bipartisan bill that's still in development, we talk about piecemeal bills, and we talk about the fact that there's no path to citizenship. All of those are indicators to many of us that support comprehensive reform that we have a tough path ahead of us in the House. Much of it rests straight on the responsibility of Speaker Boehner to show not only some leadership, but to understand that this issue is divisive, it goes against our social fabric, and it's time to fix this broken system."

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