Boehner wants an immigration bill, says White House official

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.