A comprehensive immigration overhaul bill that was expected to be embraced on both sides of the aisle in the House – including by "hard-core red state Republicans" – was undone by the stunning primary defeat
of former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Roll Call reports
Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tells Roll Call the measure dealing with one of the most contentious issues in Congress, that fell apart in the aftermath of the June 10 primary, could still be revived in the 114th Congress.
"It's already started," he tells Roll Call.
A lawmaker who's one of just a few House Republicans committed to passing legislation to give undocumented immigrants legal status, Diaz-Balart said he and his chief of staff, Cesar Gonzalez, began working on a strategy in 2013.
He said his "light bulb moment" came after another lawmaker casually commented on a big hurdle to passing immigration reform; Diaz-Balart didn't elaborate, Roll Call reports, but said he realized overcoming that obstacle would both tighten security and allow legal status to undocumented immigrants.
"It was like, 'whoa. This could be an angle, a potential way to solve one of the biggest problems that we had,' " he tells Roll Call. "It showed us there was a way to move forward."
By early 2014, Roll Call reports, Diaz-Balart and Gonzalez started sharing more details about the bill, and hired a pollster to allay fears of lawmakers worried about blowback for their support of the measure.
"More than one secret pollster," Diaz-Balart tells Roll Call. "We started polling not only theory, not only just the bill, but specifics. And the numbers that were coming back among Republicans — Southern Republicans, conservative Republicans, hardcore red-district Republicans — the pollsters flipped when they got the poll numbers back! …
"They were like, 'whoa. This is unbelievable.' Like, 'you really are onto something here. This gets support.' And, by the way, not only polls, but polls and focus groups!"
The men then began courting supporters and had enough to get the bill rolling a week before the June 10 primary, Diaz-Balart contends.
By June 9, Diaz-Balart says he and allies scheduled a meeting for later in the week with "key decision-makers" of the House Republican Conference to make the case to bring up the bill.
But then, on the morning of June 10, Diaz-Balart says he ran into his pollster, John McLaughlin — Cantor's pollster as well – realizing the Virginia lawmaker's margin of victory against primary challenger Dave Brat could either embolden or unnerve Republicans who said they would support the immigration plan.
Brat's campaign against Cantor had been built around an argument that the House's No. 2 Republican was a secret supporter of amnesty for illegal aliens, Roll Call notes
Diaz-Balart tells Roll Call that McLaughlin, however, was unconcerned.
The morning after Cantor's defeat, Diaz-Balart says he knew his immigration overhaul was done as well.
"Immediately, we had some folks who we whipped 'yes' come to us and say, 'I love the bill, it's very good, but I don't think we can do this now,' " Diaz-Balart tells Roll Call. "We knew right away that people were spooked."
On July 10, Diaz-Balart officially declared the bill dead, but he tells Roll Call the 114th Congress could be a new start.
"This has been challenging, and in that sense it's been interesting, but it's also been one of the most difficult and in many senses the nastiest thing I've ever dealt with because of the level of emotions," he tells Roll Call.
"It's not gonna go away, and I got a lot of things I'm working on," he tells Roll Call. "But unfortunately it seems that it's kind of fallen to me to try to get this done. It's not gonna fix itself."
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