House Republicans are shrugging off President Obama’s new pressure campaign aimed at pushing them to pass a comprehensive immigration bill with many of them saying they didn’t even know the president had launched it.
The White House on Wednesday released a report touting the economic benefits of passing the Senate-passed immigration measure and Obama privately huddled with members of the Hispanic Caucus. The president will meet with Sens John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. to discuss immigration reform at the White House Thursday.
But if rank-and-file House Republicans emerging from a lengthy, closed-door conference meeting on immigration were worried about Obama’s stepped-up role, they weren’t showing it.
“I don’t have any pressure on me – not from the president,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., told the Washington Examiner. “I don’t know what you’re talking about? You know House Republicans – we’re a pretty independent group. There’s no pressure.”
Rep. Jon Mica, R-Fla., gave a hearty laugh when asked about the president’s pressure campaign.
“This is a very independent group and they’ll do their own thing,” he said, noting that, for him, the Senate-passed bill is a non-starter.
One House Republican, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, didn’t know that the White House had released a report touting the economic benefits of passing comprehensive immigration reform earlier that day.
“I don’t know which economic report you’re referring to,” he said. “All I can tell you is this is the worst economic recession since World War II so the White House has nothing to brag about,” he said.
So far this year, Obama has tried to keep a low profile on immigration while the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight hashed out their differences during intense negotiations.
With House Republicans generally rejecting the Senate-passed bill outright in favor of more piece-meal border security measures, Obama waded into the issue Wednesday by releasing a report promising that passing a broad immigration bill would increase productivity, boost the gross domestic product and decrease budget deficits.
The White House even said immigration reform would improve the long-term financial stability of Social Security by adding younger workers to the U.S. workforce.
While House Republicans might dismiss the new push from Obama, it will be harder to ignore entreaties from their own party leaders.
During House Republicans’ meeting Wednesday, which is expected to set the tone for their approach to immigration reform over the next few months, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who chairs the House Budget Committee and served as the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, echoed some of the economic points from the White House report.
Fortenberry said Ryan made the economic case for passing comprehensive immigration reform, arguing that the nation’s population is declining and legalizing more citizens would add people to the nation’s tax rolls.
But Fortenberry said he believes the economic ramifications are far more complex that Ryan expressed.
“[Population growth] is not the only piece of the economic part,” he said. “… You want to be sure that you’re bringing people in who are going to add to the economy … not just adding them because they are numbers.”
While House Republicans easily brushed aside Obama’s first efforts to leverage the power of the bully pulpit, they may find it more difficult in the coming weeks when the president is expected to travel to key battleground states with heavy Hispanic populations and a number of vulnerable Republicans.
During a meeting with members of the Hispanic Caucus, which is made up entirely of Democrats, Obama said he was considering traveling around the country to back the legislation. The president would likely take his case for immigration reform to Florida, Colorado, California and New York – all states where at least a handful of House Republicans face tough re-elections.