Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that he was “guardedly optimistic” that the House would pass immigration reform legislation, and that that legislation would include a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
McCain and fellow Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake held a discussion immigration reform and related topics on Tuesday hosted by the Arizona Republic, azcentral, KPNX-TV 12News in Arizona, and USA Today. Both Flake and McCain are members of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of senators who authored the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June.
The House opted not to take up the Senate bill, and will instead, leadership said, bring forward smaller pieces of legislation to deal with immigration reform in a piecemeal fashion.
Asked what might happen if the House does not path anything at all on the topic of immigration reform, McCain hedged.
“You know, I think we’ll have to face that when it comes. I think Jeff and I remain guardedly optimistic on this issue,” he said. “I think there’ll be plenty of time to sort it out if we do not succeed.”
A major point of contention for many House Republicans has been the pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country. While a number of House Republicans have voiced support for a pathway for DREAMers, people who were brought to the country illegally when they were children, there is vocal opposition to a pathway to citizenship for other illegal immigrants in the United States, something many House Republicans refer to as amnesty. Members of the Senate have said that is an essential component for any legislation to pass.
McCain said he rejected the idea that the House might not pass any such provision as part of a reform package.
“I don’t accept your premise that the House of Representatives will absolutely reject the pathway to citizenship,” he told a reporter. He pointed to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who has said he favors a pathway to legalization. McCain also said he had talked to Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over legislation on immigration. Goodlatte said earlier this month that he does not support a “special pathway” to legalization, as the Huffington Post reported.
McCain said immigration reform was necessary to keep Republicans in the game to win Hispanic votes. Republican Rep. Steve King has argued that passing immigration reform would simply legalize more Democratic voters. Others have said passing reform is necessary for Republicans to peel away at Democrats’ grip on the Hispanic vote.
“I do not want this to be an issue that is political,” he said, adding that passing reform on its own “won’t gain one single Hispanic voter.” But, he said, doing so would “put our party…on a level playing field so that we can compete for that voter.”
“Without immigration reform, I think it’s very hard for us to get into the debate,” he said.