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POLITICS: PennAve

House Republicans hit wall on immigration reform

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Immigration,PennAve,Border Security,House Republicans,Magazine

House Republican leaders are facing a wave of opposition from their rank and file on a plan to move ahead with immigration reform, prompted in part by lack of trust in the Obama administration, threatening chances of legislation passing in 2014.

Many House Republicans left their annual issues retreat in Cambridge, Md., feeling uncertain about the GOP leadership's new “Standards for Immigration Reform” blueprint, which would boost border security, expand immigration and provide legal status to those living here illegally.

Even those who back the plan say they don’t want to try to implement it right now.

“There is a total lack of trust on the Obama administration,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “It’s a very real factor.”

The Republican plan calls for tackling reform in smaller pieces of legislation -- addressing border security first -- rather than the comprehensive bill passed by the Democratic Senate.

Members told the Washington Examiner that even among those who want to address immigration reform, as many as two-thirds of conference members believe that action should be postponed to avoid having to negotiate with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Republican lawmakers say the two Democrats have double-crossed the GOP on deals in the past, using tactics aimed at gaining political advantage instead of working on real compromise.

Obama has angered the GOP by using executive action to skirt Republican opposition on key issues, including immigration, implementation of his health care law and environmental regulations, they said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, pointed to an Obama administration decision to release some detained illegal immigrants whom they deemed to be low risk to their communities. Jordan said the policy has resulted in thousands of illegal immigrants being freed from jail, including felons.

“When you have an administration that does that,” Jordan said during a conservative conference sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, “it's tough to negotiate with them and get something done.”

If the House manages to pass a series of immigration bills, Republicans say, the Democratically led Senate will try to use a House-Senate negotiating conference to subsume these piecemeal measures into a comprehensive bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for those living here illegally.

“I think we have a sort of irresolvable conflict here,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters. “The Senate insists on comprehensive and the House says it won't go to conference with the Senate on comprehensive and wants to look at it step by step. I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place.”

GOP Rep. Tom Massie, of Kentucky, said he wants to move forward on an immigration reform plan and supports most of the principles put forward by GOP leaders. But he doesn’t want to take action until next year, at the earliest.

That’s when Senate Republicans may retake control of the upper chamber. At least a half-dozen Senate Democrats are at risk of losing their seats in November, so the GOP believes a takeover is highly possible.

“Now is not the time to do something,” Massie told the Examiner. “If we go to a conference with Harry Reid, there is little to be gained and a lot to be lost and so we should wait for ten months to see what the outcome of the Senate race is.”

In the end, it will be up to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to decide what kind of legislation, if any, to bring to the House floor for a vote.

He is under pressure from business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to pass legislation that would increase visas for both high- and low-skilled workers. But he knows moving too quickly could risk a rebellion from his right flank and could turn off the Republican voting base ahead of the November election.

“We are going to continue to discuss this issue with our members,” Boehner said.

“But I think the president's going to have to demonstrate to the American people and to my colleagues that he can be trusted to enforce the law as it is written,” the speaker added, “It's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner