House Republican leaders are seeking to speed up efforts to craft U.S. immigration-law proposals as the Senate nears the first test votes on its own plan.
House Speaker John Boehner and other leaders have decided to focus on immigration before the August recess, three Republican aides said yesterday. The aides asked not to be quoted by name because official deadlines haven’t been set.
The Senate plans to take its first procedural votes today on a bipartisan plan that includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants with a goal of passing the measure by July 4 and sending it to the House. Unlike in the Senate, House leaders haven’t committed to advancing a comprehensive immigration rewrite.
"It’s very wise that House Republicans are trying to position themselves to try and not look like they are slowing down or stopping immigration reform," Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former congressional aide, said in an interview.
House leaders want to avoid being pressured into considering the Senate legislation if they don’t have proposals of their own. With budget issues and the debate over raising the federal debt ceiling probably taking up floor time in September and October, this month and July offer an opportunity for the House to produce its immigration plan, the aides said.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters June 6 that immigration is "a very difficult issue" and that he hoped the chamber’s Judiciary Committee will present measures by the end of this month.
The last significant congressional effort to revise U.S. immigration law stalled in 2007. Republicans are trying to reconnect with Hispanics after President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the constituency’s votes in his re-election in November.
Obama will make remarks in the East Room this morning in support of the Senate bill, S. 744, which seeks to balance a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. -- a Democratic priority -- with enough border security to satisfy Republicans. Many Republicans, particularly in the House, oppose a citizenship path and are demanding stiffer border-security measures.
Boehner and Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who leads the Judiciary Committee, have said the House will take a step-by-step approach. The panel is considering separate bills to address aspects of the immigration debate, including the flow of agricultural and high-technology workers to the U.S.
Goodlatte hasn’t said whether his committee will consider a comprehensive measure being drafted by a bipartisan group of House members. The Virginia Republican said he will review the measure after it’s introduced.
The bipartisan group has been working on an immigration plan for more than four years. The group last week lost a member, Idaho Republican Raul Labrador, who quit because of disagreements over whether undocumented immigrants seeking legal status should receive subsidized health benefits.
Labrador, a Tea Party favorite, said June 5 that he opposes an agreement among the three other Republicans and four Democrats in the negotiating group to offer subsidized health care to undocumented immigrants with provisional legal status.
Labrador said while all the negotiators "acted in good faith," he’ll probably oppose the group’s measure and opt instead for adding to competing bills that the House will consider individually.
"If we can’t agree on language on health care, then I think we have a long road to go," Labrador said. "I am going to try to find my own way to reform immigration. I think there’s a better way. It has to pass the House."
The Senate, which began debate on immigration June 7, is scheduled to hold a pair of votes today on taking up the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said last month that he would vote to bring the bill to the floor so lawmakers can consider amendments.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has said he will require few limits on amendments.
Divisions have emerged among Republicans over how much the measure’s border-security provisions should be strengthened. A co-author of the bill, Florida Republican Marco Rubio, is working to craft an amendment that could draw Republican support.
Rubio hasn’t said whether he will use elements of a proposal last week by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn to impose new border-security requirements before undocumented immigrants can seek legal status.
New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democratic co-sponsor of the immigration measure, has said members of his party would oppose changes to those benchmarks.
Heritage Action for America, the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, today urged lawmakers to oppose the Senate measure, which it described as granting "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants. The Washington-based Heritage Foundation advocates limited government.
Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit group backed by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, said it bought almost $100,000 in print and online advertising to promote an "extreme makeover" of the Senate proposal.