House Republicans are unlikely to move on immigration reform legislation before they depart Washington at the end of July for a month-long summer recess, members said Wednesday as they emerged from a private meeting on the issue.
The House could vote before the August recess on legislation limited to border security, a Republican priority, but there is no specific timeline for legislative action on broader immigration-reform measures.
In all likelihood, legislative action will be reserved for the relevant committees, with House Republicans hoping to use July to develop a coherent and politically cogent message on immigration that they can take home to their constituents. Voter feedback from their districts could influence their path in the fall.
"I don't think there's going to be any movement in July, I think it's going to be after the recess, because we want to make sure that when we do it, we do everything together," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said. "Today was a listening session, so that we can then come up with a strategy."
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former House Judiciary Committee chairman who worked on the last major immigration reform effort in 1986, said, "We've still got a long way to go.
"Everybody's got a different idea on this," he said, "and a lot of people weren't around last time we talked about it. There's an education gap."
House Republicans were hesitant to reveal what, specifically, was discussed during the conference gathering. But sources in the room said that, somewhat surprisingly, a "majority" of the caucus expressed a desire to pass legislation that overhauls U.S. immigration law. Beyond legislation to strengthen border security, however, it's unclear what other reforms a majority of House Republicans could support. GOP leadership has vowed not to grant a floor vote to any bill that isn't backed by a majority of Republicans.
The two-hour meeting, held behind closed doors in the Capitol basement, was billed as a listening session at which members could express their views on immigration reform to the leadership and key committee chairmen. One Republican, who suggested he expected otherwise, described the discussion as "mature" and "conducted at an elevated level."
In one interesting exchange, Rep. Tom Cotton, a freshman from Arkansas, delivered an "impassioned" plea to GOP leaders to approach any potential negotiations with the Senate with extreme caution. Cotton, who is being urged to run against Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., next year, warned that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would try and jam House Republicans in any negotiation to reconcile a House package with the Senate-passed comprehensive reform bill.
"He sounded very much like a Senate candidate," said one source present for the meeting. Boehner has made clear that he would not support any compromise with the Senate that does not pass muster with a majority of House Republicans.
There remains a relatively small band of committed opponents to any legislation resembling comprehensive immigration reform, and they spoke up during the Wednesday afternoon meeting.
Most House Republicans are either skeptical of, or outright opposed to, the concept of legalizing millions of illegal immigrants already in the country and granting them a path to citizenship, which is a central component of the Senate-approved bill. But the group of staunch immigration reform opponents could oppose any immigration legislation, even a border security bill. They fear that anything supported by House Republicans would be coupled with legalization in any conference committee negotiations with the Senate.
Rep. Steve King, who has been actively strategizing to sink immigration reform efforts, said that it took him an hour and 50 minutes to be able to get to the microphone and address the conference.
The Iowa Republican made a point of saying that he did not receive "a standing ovation."
"We have a disagreement inside there," he added. "I hope that I made some people think."