Rep. Raul Labrador said Thursday that he believes the House immigration working group has reached a tentative bipartisan agreement on a comprehensive reform package.
The Idaho Republican suggested in a conversation with reporters that the deal is not much different than a preliminary deal the group struck last week, a deal that was imperiled when Democrats objected to a provision that would require immigrants to pay for their own health insurance until they gain legal status. The provision was intended to prevent immigrants from taking advantage of U.S. entitlement programs until they are legalized.
The congressman offered few specifics of the new deal.
Labrador said he expects staff to draft legislative language during the Memorial Day recess, and that only after the working group reviews the actual bill would members know if they have resolved all of the sticking points.
"I think I have an agreement, so I have to look at the language," Labrador said after the working group emerged from a private meeting that was viewed as an attempt to salvage negotiations that began four years ago but picked up steam after the 2012 elections.
On Wednesday, Labrador had warned that the negotiations could dissolve if a deal was not reached before Congress left Washington Thursday afternoon for the weeklong Memorial Day recess. Labrador, a former immigration attorney, is a stalwart Tea Party conservative and his support could be crucial to prospects for reform.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the working group, declined to comment, saying his colleagues have agreed not to divulge specifics to the press yet. But Labrador was willing to discuss the apparent tentative agreement at least somewhat following a meeting that took place without staff, who were kicked out shortly after it began.
Labrador confirmed that he does believe the group has an "agreement in principle" and that all eight members of the bipartisan gang are on the same page in that regard. The congressman said it would take a week or two to draft legislative language and only after it is complete and the group has signed off on it would they be able to share it with their colleagues.
Democrats in the working group began backing away from the agreement earlier this week after their party's leadership voiced objections to a component of the deal that requires newly legalized immigrants to maintain their own health insurance.
Labrador said that provision is still a part of the group's tentative agreement, suggesting that the Democrats may be dropping their objections. "I believe so," Labrador said when asked if this issue had been resolved, although he said he would reserve final judgment until he views the legislative language.
"I thought we had an agreement, I don't think much changed today, I think maybe there was just some confusion about some details, but I think we're all good," said Labrador.
Meanwhile, House Republican leaders said in a joint statement released Thursday afternoon that they were committed to overhauling the nation's immigration laws. But they made clear that the House process would run differently than what has occurred in the Senate, and additionally that the House would move forward independently of whatever legislation being considered on the north end of Capitol Hill.
Following is the full statement from House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio; Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California; Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington; and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.
"Our nation's immigration system is broken - hurting families, our national security, and the economy, which is why reform is included in our plan for economic growth and job creation. While we applaud the progress made by our Senate colleagues, there are numerous ways in which the House will approach the issue differently. The House remains committed to fixing our broken immigration system, but we will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes. Rather, through regular order, the House will work its will and produce its own legislation. Enacting policy as consequential and complex as immigration reform demands that both chambers of Congress engage in a robust debate and amendment process. Our nation's immigration processes, border security, and enforcement mechanisms remain dysfunctional. The House goal is enactment of legislation that actually solves these problems and restores faith in our immigration system, and we are committed to continuing the work we've begun toward that goal in the weeks and months ahead."