WASHINGTON — House Republicans do not appear to be feeling any pressure to take up immigration reform, despite efforts by supporters of the comprehensive immigration reform bill to pressure the House to take up the bill that many House Republicans find unpalatable.
Supporters of the bill in the Senate have said that regardless of what House leadership says now, once the Senate passes the bill, they are going to feel pressure to take up the immigration reform bill. They set 70 votes as the goal number, hoping it would show enough bipartisan support to potentially give the House cover in picking it up.
“A bill that comes out with 70 plus votes … I think it would have a lot of momentum to get it through the House,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Gang of Eight, said last week.
“I want to do everything I can to maximize the number of votes we get on the bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters at a press conference Tuesday, indicating that although it was not always helpful to getting legislation through the House, it would not hurt.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the leading Republican in the Gang of Eight, said on Friday that he hoped business interests, traditionally a base of the GOP, would push for the bill.
“One of the bases of the Republican Party is the business community,” McCain told reporters Thursday. “The business community is solidly behind this: small business, large business, [U.S.] Chamber [of Commerce], Business Roundtable — you name it. They’re all solidly in and believe that it’s very good for the economy. We need them to weigh in very frankly on this issue. Because we … advertise ourselves as the party of business, and particularly small business, that perhaps they can have some effect.”
Not doing so would have devastating consequences for the future of the Republican Party, and its ability to woo the growing Hispanic population in future elections, McCain warned.
“I think it’s obviously very critical, in my view. But I’m not arguing it on that grounds ’cause otherwise then we get into this back and forth: ‘no, Hispanics really don’t care.’ ‘Oh really?’ … I can assure you, they care. I can assure you that the passion level is as high as on any issue I’ve ever observed,” he said.
House Republicans seem unmoved by any of those factors.
Speaker of the House John Boehner told his conference at a meeting Wednesday morning that he would not bring the Senate bill to the floor, regardless of how many Republican votes it gets in the Senate later this week, Mississippi Republican Rep. John Fleming told reporters when he emerged from the meeting.
“He’s saying that you guys, the media, had this narrative out there that they’re gonna pass this bill with big numbers in the Senate, and we’re going to take it up over here. And he said, he has said in every way shape and form that just isn’t gonna happen. So he reemphasized that,” Fleming said.
The House will instead begin its own process, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chairman Bob Goodlatte has indicated that he favors working on a series of smaller bills, rather than one comprehensive bill.
Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole told reporters that the 70 vote threshold in the Senate was not high enough.
“I think it’s dead on arrival here as is ’cause it couldn’t get the majority of Republicans there,” Cole told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “All this sort of talk about a magic number of seventy … if you’ve got all the Democrats, that’s 15 Republicans. Why on earth would a majority of Republicans embrace something in the House that a majority of Republicans didn’t embrace [in the Senate]?”
“I don’t think this is a situation where the Senate is going to be able to stampede the House into action,” he added.
Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, one of the conservative members of the House who has been working on immigration reform, said during an event Wednesday that he disagreed with McCain and everyone else who said that passing immigration reform was imperative to the Republican Party’s survival.
“I think this is my biggest frustration with the Republican Party right now is that we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off, thinking that we have to do this for political reasons,” Labrador said. “We don’t have to do this for political reasons. In fact, the biggest mistake we can make as conservatives is to pander for the Hispanic community and think that the only way we can get votes is to vote a certain way on immigration.”
“Because if what we start doing is we start pandering and we start giving goodies out to people, then we’re going to get into a bidding war with the Democratic Party,” he continued. “And if we get into a bidding war, we always lose, because the Demorats are always more willing to give goodies to a certain group than we are. So what we have to do is do things based on principle.”
That principle, he reiterated, was border security first, and then, when people were no longer entering the country illegally, a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country could be a feasible option.
Labrador was initially a member of a bipartisan group of House members working on an immigration bill, but he parted ways with the group after they failed to come to an agreement on healthcare. The impact of that group’s efforts has not yet been felt.
“The bipartisan group? What bipartisan group? … The House group that’s been meeting in secret? Well, I mean, it’s meeting in secret. They don’t even acknowledge that they exist … No one’s talking about that at all,” Fleming told a reporter who asked about the group’s effots.
Boehner told his conference that they would meet Wednesday, July 10, after they return from next week’s recess, and discuss how they will move forward with immigration reform, according to Fleming and Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent.
*This article has been updated for clarity.