WASHINGTON – House Republicans are in no hurry to pass immigration reform.
The full House Republican conference held its first confab on the issue Wednesday, following the Senate passage of the comprehensive immigration reform bill before both chambers recessed for the week of July Fourth. Members speaking to the media after said that leaders had not put forth a clear timeline or strategy for moving forward on the issue.
“We don’t want to rush anything,” said House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. “We want to get it right.”
Congress will recess from August 5 through September 6. When they return in September, the end of the fiscal year will be upon them, and they will have to take up the issue of raising the debt ceiling, a contentious annual fight between Democrats and Republicans.
“There’s no way you’re going to move this ahead of that, in my opinion,” Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole said after the meeting, when asked if the House might move something before the end of the month.
Cole said Majority Leader Eric Cantor had not set out any particular timeline for the bill.
“The timeline I think is less a concern than that they do it right,” said Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, when asked about a schedule.
“Someone asked me if we feel a sense of urgency, and the idea is, we want to keep forward motion, but we don’t feel like we have to pass something in the next few weeks,” said Louisiana Republican Rep. John Fleming.
Getting anything passed in before the August recess was “one hundred percent unlikely,” he said.
A joint statement from the Republican leadership — Speaker of the House John Boehner, Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Homeland Security Committee Chair Michael McCaul and Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte — similarly suggested that they were in no rush.
“Today House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system,” they said in the joint statement released after the meeting.
Several members expressed confidence that even if it did not happen before September, the House could still pass immigration reform before the end of the year.
“I think Republicans can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, who supports immigration reform, albeit not the reform passed by the Senate.
Republicans did not emerge with a strategy moving forward, but Labrador said that now that leadership had heard from conference members, they could begin to map out a “pathway” to passage.
There is broad agreement among the caucus, members said, that they need to do something to reform the immigration system. Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, one of the staunchest and most vocal opponents of the Senate’s version of the immigration reform bill, agreed that the immigration system was not working.
“Everybody believes the system is broken,” said the congressman, who several weeks ago held a six-hour press conference and rally attacking immigration reform.
“What I’m seeing is a broad consensus,” said Fleming. “We all want to solve the problem, we all want to start with border security, and we all hate the senate bill. So, where do we go from here?”
Several members also spoke of emerging support for a bill to help the so-called DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
“I think everybody realizes that’s something we have to deal with, and that these are folks that have not done anything wrong themselves,” said Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, a member of the bipartisan Group of Seven, which has been working on an immigration bill in secret for months.
“There were some voices of strong compassion for people in that situation,” said Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn.
Two potential issues surrounding future legislation trouble Republicans.
The first is that any legislation they pass could go to conference with the Senate and come out looking unrecognizable.
“Many of us have anxiety that those bills could be totally morphed into something very similar to the current Senate bill, which, again, I seriously doubt anybody in that room would vote for the Senate bill,” Fleming said, regarding some members who want to move forward with some of the bills that have been passed out of the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees.
The Speaker has repeatedly said, both publicly and in that meeting, that he would not bring a bill to the floor that was not supported by a majority of the majority, and Fleming said Boehner promised in the meeting that if the bill were to go to conference, “it would be a conference committee that would accurately reflect the will of the… Republican conference.”
Fleming said those assurances were not sufficient to calm his anxiety.
“How do you hold someone accountable for that? That’s a very vague. That’s very nondescript and subjective. I think I would feel much better if I actually knew who was gonna be on that conference committee,” he said.
Boehner inspired more confidence in other members.
“There is concern that the mere act of going to conference will lead to the Senate somehow having irresistible momentum to push an undesirable bill on the House. I think that speaker Boehner is very aware of that, will not let that happen in the first place, we do not need to be afraid of that happening,” said Lamborn.
Many members also expressed concern that the Obama administration might opt not to enforce legislation passed by the House if they disagreed with it — a concern members said was fanned by the announcement last week by the administration that they would delay implementation of the business mandate in the new healthcare law until 2015.
“There’s a lot of skepticism about the administration and their willingness to enforce any law that’s passed. That’s on their head,” said Cole.
Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp had a more colorful take.
“Trusting [President] Barack Obama with border security is like trusting my daughter with [former President] Bill Clinton,” he said. “We just don’t trust him.”
Giuseppe Macri contributed to this report.