Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. walks to a closed-door meeting with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and other congressional leaders on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013. With the House controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats, a divided and divisive Congress will have to work together to to avoid a government shutdown after the 2013 budget year ends Sept. 30. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Boehner wants an immigration bill, says White House official

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — White House officials believe that House Speaker John Boehner wants to pass a major immigration rewrite, but a former top Republican legislator says he could lose his speakership by trying to push a bill past opposition from his GOP caucus.

“We hear from a number of people talking to them … more directly and way more more bluntly [than us], who are telling us there are positive signs that Speaker Boehner and the Republican caucus do want to find a solution,” said Felicia Escobar, the senior policy adviser on immigration for President Barack Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.

“We believe there are a number of pieces of legislation they want to act on in small bite-sized pieces … before they make a move on the House floor,” she said at a Sept. 25 meeting on immigration policy in Georgetown University. The small bills would cover younger illegals, immigrant workers or guest workers.

The White House doesn’t object to a piecemeal approach if that helps Senate and House leaders hold a joint conference to draft a big comprehensive rewrite of the law, she suggested.

Piecemeal bills are “OK if we can get to a place and sit down and negotiate a final product,” she said.

“We’re hopeful — [but] this is a long fight [and] we have 15 months until this Congress leaves” in December 2014, she said.

Boehner could push a major rewrite through the House using Democrats to get a majority, but would be “the end of his speakership,” said Tom Davis, a former GOP legislator from Northern Virginia.

Currently, the chance of a bill being passed “is 50/50,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a senior Democratic legislator in the House. Van Hollen and Davis both joined Escobar at the Georgetown conference.

Van Hollen argued that a major rewrite would help the GOP, despite the eventual influx of additional Democratic-leaning voters.

“On balance, it will be harmful to the Republican Party — at least in the near term — if they are seen as blocking” a bill, Van Hollen insisted.

However, polls backed by reduced immigration groups show public opposition to increased immigration, and opposition — including among Latinos — to continued illegal immigration.