WASHINGTON — Senators working to pass comprehensive immigration reform are keeping their eyes on their own chamber, in spite of comments Tuesday morning by Speaker of the House John Boehner that he would not bring the bill to the floor without a majority of Republican support.
House Republicans have voiced extensive concerns with the comprehensive reform bill authored by the “Gang of Eight.” At the press conference Tuesday morning, Boehner called the triggers “laughable.”
But Gang of Eight senators said that for the moment, senators working to pass the bill need to focus on what was going on in their own chamber, not in the House.
“I have talked to my four Democrats in the Gang of Eight, and I have told them, ‘Concentrate on the Senate. Don’t, at this stage, worry about what’s going to happen in the House.’ And I say that no matter what statements the speaker may have given,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said at a press conference Tuesday.
“No matter what he has said, there’s going to be significant national pressure on the House to do something on immigration. I’m only worried about what’s going to happen here, and I’m not going to … say how I really feel about that,” he added, laughing.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican member of the gang, said that supporters of the bill should focus on getting it passed in the Senate with a majority of 70 votes. A few Republican votes versus many Republican votes, Graham told reporters, would be “the difference between ultimate success and failure.”
“I think a bill that comes out of the Senate with a handful of Republicans is not going to have a very good fate when it comes to our House colleagues. A bill that comes out with 70 plus votes … I think it would have a lot of momentum to get it through the House,” he said.
Asked specifically about Boehner’s comments that he would not bring the bill to the floor without a majority of Republican support, Graham said that there are certain concessions that he is not willing to make to House Republicans.
“He’s the speaker of the House, not me,” Graham said.
“Here’s what I do know, and this is important,” he went on. “There will be no bill signed without a pathway to citizenship. There will be no bill that doesn’t have enhanced legal immigration and better border security.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has voiced some of the same concerns as Speaker Boehner, particularly on border security, but echoed comments that the Senate needed to focus on crafting a bill that they themselves could pass.
“Well it has to be improved, but look, I’m not going to comment on the House process,” he told reporters Tuesday.
“We need to focus on the Senate process. The House has their own process and their own opinions,” he said.
He pointed out that regardless of the changes made to the Senate bill, the House was highly unlikely to pass it in its original form, regardless.
“The notion that somehow the House is going to take the bill we send them and just pass it as is, I mean, I don’t think that’s true of any legislation,” he said. “There’s always going to be a back and forth, that’s how the system was designed. And I think that’s good.”
Sen. John McCain, asked to respond to Boehner’s criticism of the border triggers as “laughable,” dismissed the comment.
“I always admire and appreciate Speaker Boehner’s comments,” he shot back.
House Democrats, meanwhile, pushed back on the way Republicans were handling immigration in the House.
“The fact is the votes exist in the House of Representatives among Republicans and Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez told reporters assembled for a press conference in front of the Capitol.
“When it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, we need to be Americans first and party loyalists second,” he added.
The House Judiciary Committee spent Tuesday debating the SAFE Act, a bill sponsored by Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Rep. Trey Gowdy that would impose tougher border security.
Democrats lambasted the bill at a press conference.
“It’s like an out of touch eighties band trying to stay relevant,” said Democratic Caucus vice chair Rep. Joe Crowley. “They have released a greatest hits compilation of the worst immigration policy proposals of recent years.”
Giuseppe Macri contributed to this report.