POLITICS: PennAve

Bob Goodlatte to Obama: Stay away from immigration debate

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House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, the Republican overseeing immigration reform in the House, warned President Obama Sunday to stay away as lawmakers carefully construct a compromise that can pass the lower chamber with a majority of GOP support.

“If he tries to muscle this process and disrupt the natural order of checks and balances and divsion of power … he is stepping into an area that will not serve him well,” Goodlatte, R-Va., said on C-SPAN’s "Newsmakers."

Goodlatte said it was “disturbing” that the administration played a heavy behind-the-scenes role in the crafting of the immigration-reform bill in the Senate. Obama in the past used executive orders to make sweeping changes to how the federal government addressed the children of illegal immigrants and Goodlatte said a similar maneuver could blow any chance for a congressional deal on immigration.

“The executive branch can play a useful role in providing technical advice, and we have met with the president’s lead advisers on this issue from time to time,” Goodlatte said. “We think if the president tries to drive this issue either by threatening [to use executive orders] or by trying to jam something down the throats of the American people and their representatives in the House that they dont want, it will have a negative impact on the process.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and either side of the Capitol were decidedly divided on the Sunday morning talk shows as to whether the Republican-controlled House will follow the Senate’s lead and pass an immigration reform bill that can make it to a conference committee, where a final compromise can be worked out. Goodlatte said he remains optimistic that the House’s piecemeal approach – using a series of narrowly focused bills rather than a single, comprehensive plan like the Senate – will succeed, but Democrats were discouraged by the process.

“I think that it should be a comprehensive bill,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., on ABC’s "This Week." “Sitting on the Judiciary Committee and hearing the individual bills that have been proposed, I’m very concerned.”

Democrats continue to pressure the House to take up the Senate bill passed ast month with bipartisan support, insisting conservatives already won major concessions. But even Senate Republicans who voted for the bill are rooting for the House to come up with a more measured approach.

“I’m counting on the House getting it even better,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “I’m counting on the House realizing that we can’t just continue on with this de facto amnesty.”

The sticking point for House Republicans is finding a solution that creates a pathway to legal status for some 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the country without giving them preferred status over those who spent decades working to enter the U.S. legally, Goodlatte said. He added that the border must be secured before undocumented workers are granted citizenship.

“They do not all have to be treated with the same status. Somebody who entered the country illegally 10 days ago may not be deserving of the same consideration of somebody who entered the country 20 years ago,” Goodlatte said. “All of them need to be addressed but we need to think of this not as one large group of 11 million people.”

But House Republicans are divided on the issue between those who are unwilling to go even that far on legalization. Following the 2012 election, many GOP leaders have pushed immigration reform as a means of improving their standing with Hispanic voters, but some conservatives remain unwilling to budge.

“It’s a mistake for Republicans to believe the election was a debate about immigration,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said on "Fox News Sunday." “They want this for a political issue. This is a big boon for Democrats. If we pass something, they’re still going to get credit for it in the White House.”

Democrats are already threatening to use the issue against Republicans in the 2014 election cycle if immigration reform fails.

Rep. Steve Isreal, a New York Congressman and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Republicans: “Yes, we will hold them accountable.”

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