According to media reports, many House Republicans rejected holding an immigration debate this year after the unveiling of the Republican leaders' immigration proposal. Leading Democrats, on the other hand, appear to view that proposal as a starting point for debate.
Breitbart News reports the immigration discussion at the Republican retreat was intensive but constructive. Participants said Members lined up to speak in three camps - those who want to consider immigration legislation on the House floor now, those who support some kind of reform but think debate should be delayed, and those who generally reject any legislation because current laws aren't being enforced properly. Several participants told Breitbart that those who opposed moving forward comprised 70-80 percent of the Members who spoke at yesterday's immigration session.
Reps. Jeff Denham (Calif.) and Mike Coffman (Colo.) reportedly said during the discussion that immigration reform is a family values issue and that Republicans should pass legislation to prevent families from “being split apart.” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wisc.) told Members that there will never be a perfect time to discuss immigration but implied that this is as good a time as any.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.) suggested that Republicans should unify around principles for reform but doubted that the House could or should go further. “Unifying behind principles would be a very useful thing…(but)..It’s very debatable about whether we do it now or later.”
Rep. Joe Barton (Tex.) suggested it would not be possible to deal with immigration this year because Republicans disagree about moving forward and both Parties will find it impossible to settle on policy. “I think we’re probably going to wait until next year,” Barton said. “I’m not afraid to engage in a constructive dialogue on it, and if there really is a bipartisan deal that works, take a look at it. But I wouldn’t put a lot of political chips on it this year.”
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (Ind.) said that Republicans should wait until after the November elections to tackle immigration reform. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan, who hopes to introduce a tax overhaul proposal soon, said “We should be a party that’s for things…I don’t think it’s good strategy to divide ourselves.”
“Whatever we pass, there’s no real trust that the president’s going to enforce those laws equally. That’s been a big problem on a lot of fronts, but especially on immigration,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (La.). “People wonder if you pass a bill that has some things that are good and some things that are bad, is the president going to pick and choose what he enforces?”
House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Tom Price (Ga.) said "This is a draft document, and it should stay a draft document," while House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) said, "If we're talking about this issue, we aren't talking about the things Americans want us to talk about."
“My sense is that the consensus here is that we should not move forward and that leaders will abide by that," said Rep. John Fleming (La.). "On a political basis, this is a suicide mission for Republicans. Why would we want to change the topic for a very toxic problem Democrats have with Obamacare?”
Rep. Jason Smith (Mo.), commenting on the distinction between legalization and citizenship during the discussion, said “I think they’re the same thing. I have great concerns about the legalization aspect.” He said his constituents see no distinction between the two and oppose both.
In a phone interview after the discussion Rep. Raul Labrador (Idaho), one of the original members of the House “gang," said "It's not just the conservatives. I think a majority of the conference" feel that now is "not the time to deal with the issue." Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) subsequently told reporters “One of the root challenges is the lack of trust in President Obama and Senator Reid…It’s a shame because we agree perhaps on most of the issues, but getting past the basic hurdle of who we can work with is hard.”
Some of the Democrats most intimately involved in the immigration debate appear to be open to moving forward based on Boehner’s principles. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.) called Boehner’s plan “a first step.” He said he won’t say yes or no until he sees something in legislative form. “I am concerned with stopping the deportations, not erecting any new barriers to applying for citizenship, protecting the rights of working people, be they immigrants or U.S. born, and making sure we don't turn our local police into enemies of immigrants in our communities,” Gutierrez said.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a leading proponent of the Senate-passed bill, said: “While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans . . . can in some way come together and pass immigration reform. It is a long, hard road but the door is open.”
Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a Boehner confidant, told Roll Call that it may not be possible for Republican leaders to find 218 Republicans to support an overhaul that can pass the House without Democratic votes. That means Republican leaders will need to decide whether they should search for enough votes from both Parties to move ahead while maintaining the Hastert rule (118 Republicans votes needed). “The leadership will have to make a decision as to what they want to do, knowing it’s a contentious issue,” Cole said. “If they come to agreement … then as long as they’re willing to sort of manage the conference, then I think we can probably get to a majority of the majority.”
Commenting on when the House might see action on immigration, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) said “I don’t know when it’s going to appear on the schedule. My hunch is it doesn’t come up tomorrow. It’s probably months out, I don’t know. But the point would be most of the primaries would’ve faded by then, anyway. By the time you get to June, most of them are behind you.” Walden is facing a primary challenge this year.
Updated: Wed, Feb 5th 2014 @ 10:54am EST