House Republicans warned on Wednesday that they would not take an “Obamacare-like” approach to immigration reform, declaring instead that the lower chamber will take a “step-by-step, common-sense approach” to solving the plight of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.
“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,” said House Speaker John Boehner after the GOP’s closed-door strategy session at the Capitol.
Boehner’s statement was endorsed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, also of Virginia.
“The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy,” the statement continued. “But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington — and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem.”
Pointing to last week’s decision by President Barack Obama to move back the employer mandate in Obamacare, the Ohio Republican said that the president “has also demonstrated that he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”
The House leaders soundly rejected the bipartisan Senate bill that was approved on a 68-32 vote last month and includes a pathway to citizenship and increased border security. The statement essentially killed White House hopes that a major reform bill involving citizenship could soon land on Obama’s desk.
However, Boehner cautioned Republicans that the party would be “in a much weaker position” if it did not act on immigration reform soon.
Boehner “said we’d be in a much weaker position if we didn’t act,” Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma told The Hill after the session. “He clearly wants to act, thinks something needs to get done.
“Frankly, our principles are probably closer to where the American people are, but it’s incumbent upon us to act,” Cole said.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged earlier on Wednesday that passing the reform legislation was "an uphill battle" in the House.
"It cannot be acceptable broadly and in the long term that immigration reform would be blocked because some minority of House Republicans is concerned about a primary challenge from the far right," Carney said.
Regardless, House members emerged from the two-hour session making it clear that the lower chamber would move on the issue methodically — and in its own time.
The leadership put forth no firm timetable — only Boehner saying that he wanted something passed before lawmakers left for a four-week break over August, most likely dealing with tougher border security — and no other proposals in the session.
"We don't want to rush anything,” said Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee and chairman of the House Budget Committee. “We want to get it right.”
Even if that means that any House legislation is the only way to go, said Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
“America is a nation of immigrants, but we're also a nation of laws, and the U.S. immigration system should respect both traditions,” Cotton said in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. “Unfortunately, the Senate immigration bill undermines the rule of law without solving the country's illegal-immigration problem, and it will harm American workers.
“The House of Representatives will reject any proposal with the Senate bill's irreparably flawed structure, which is best described as: legalization first, enforcement later . . . maybe.”
Some Republicans remained adamant during the session that no pathway to citizenship be included in House legislation, saying that such a bill would simply reward people who broke U.S. laws.
"An accelerated or preferential treatment leading to citizenship is something that I see resistance to among House Republicans," said Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn.
He added that there was "uniform agreement that border security has to come first, or we're going to end up in this situation again at some point in the future."
House members also appeared unmoved by former President George W. Bush’s call for immigration reform.
"America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time," Bush said at a naturalization ceremony at the Bush Presidential Library in Dallas.
“We care what people back home say, not what some former president says,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said after the session. The second-term Republican has often clashed with the party leadership in the House.
Even though scuttling immigration reform this term could hurt Republican chances with Hispanics in the 2014 midterm elections and beyond, many GOP members have few Hispanics in their districts and, thus, little incentive to support the Senate legislation.
"The Senate does not tell the House what to do," said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska.
Louisiana Rep. John Fleming concurred. "I don't sense any urgency," he said.
And Rep. Peter King of New York, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that if any legislation came to the floor for a vote this month, it would only address border security.
But even that idea stoked fears among lawmakers, saying that it could lead to Senate negotiations that might morph into a compromise that included citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
They sought and received assurances from Boehner that he wouldn't let that happen, according to North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer.
Boehner has said that he will not bring any bill to the House floor that does not have the support at least half of the GOP rank and file, a pledge that only increases the challenge for Democrats and others who seek a path to citizenship as part of reform legislation.
For its part, the Obama White House, which has remained silent during much of the Senate’s debate last month, tried to turn up the pressure on House Republicans to force them to pass the bill.
In a report issued on Wednesday, the administration argued that the Senate bill would grow the economy by 5.4 percent and cut federal deficits by nearly $850 billion, while the federal debt would drop three percent as a share of the economy by 2023.
And Democrats touted recent polls showing that a majority of voters in some key districts support the Senate legislation and that Republicans who oppose it could be hurt in mid-term elections in 2014.
A survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning through highly respected firm, revealed that nearly half of voters surveyed in seven congressional districts would be less likely to support their representative if an immigration reform bill did not pass.
"Voters are just much less likely to vote for somebody if they voted against immigration reform," said director Tom Jensen. "Our polling makes it clear that swing-district voters will hold it against their congressmen if this gets blocked."
The seven lawmakers in question — Jeff Denham, David Valadao and Gary Miller, all of California; Mike Coffman of Colorado; John Kline of Minnesota; Joe Heck of Nevada, and Mike Grimm of New York — serve in districts where support for the Senate's immigration bill runs high.
But Brad Woodhouse, president of pro-Obama grassroots group Americans United for Change, was more blunt.
"Their majority is in jeopardy if they screw this up," he said of the challenge facing Republicans.
"There may be nothing more convincing to Republicans who have repeatedly opposed immigration reform in the past than the political price they'll pay if they fail to pass immigration reform now."
Republican lawmakers largely dismissed that suggestion, however.
"We want to fix this problem and fix it for good, and not be concerned about political outcomes," said Louisiana’s Fleming, who insisted there is "no panic, there's no rush" about getting a bill done this summer.
The Associated Press and AFP also contributed to this report.
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