The House Republican Conference will conduct a closed-door, hour-long meeting on immigration Wednesday that few believe will settle anything. “It’s all over the map,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told National Journal Tuesday, before joking that Republicans would need a full weekend retreat to sort out a plan on the issue.
Citizenship front and center
For all the discord among Republicans on immigration, there is actually a fair amount of policy a majority, but not all, agree on: increased border security, increased interior enforcement (anchored by E-Verify), and increased legal immigration, especially for high-skill workers. After that, however, consensus breaks down.
While many Republicans also favor ramping up low-skill guest worker programs (as a House Judiciary Committee-passed bill already does), others (mostly from agricultural districts) want to increase low-skill immigration, and yet others want to limit or end low-skill immigration entirely.
The biggest disagreement, however, centers on what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. For their part, Democrats emerged from their own immigration huddle Tuesday, pronouncing that nothing but citizenship for the full 11 million would be acceptable. “You must include a pathway to citizenship,” Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told ABC News. But while most Republicans in the House appear open to granting some legal status to current illegal immigrants, a majority feel citizenship goes to far.
No one is trusted
And then there is, of course, the immigration hardliners who distrust the House Republican leadership as much as they distrust President Obama. The Washington Examiner‘s Tim Mak reports that a group led by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has been meeting weekly to plan their opposition to any immigration bill. “The group’s goal for the week was to get as many opponents of comprehensive immigration legislation up to the microphones during Wednesday’s conference meeting. Their worry? That leadership will 'stack the deck' against them with speakers supportive of the comprehensive plan,” Mak reports.
Conference committee end game
A worry shared by both the immigration-hardliners and those Republicans who want to see an immigration bill that increases legal immigration, but stops short of giving citizenship to illegal immigrants, is what happens to any House-passed bill after it goes to conference committee with the Senate. “Anxiety among Republicans that House Democrats on the conference committee might vote as a bloc with a unified team of Senate conferees, and hijack the negotiations, is real,” the Washington Examiner‘s David Drucker reports. “Consequently, Boehner is unlikely to approve a conference committee that isn’t governed by some sort of agreement that protects House Republicans.”
But even if Boehner does secure restrictions on what a conference committee could agree to, many House Republicans still fear that House Democrats could force a vote on citizenship anyway. “House rules allow the minority caucus to force floor votes on almost any subject once a conference committee runs longer than 10 legislative days, or 20 calendar days, depending on which threshold is reached first,” Drucker explains, “even staunch opponents of immigration reform concede that allowing the process to get that far along could produce a scenario that is unpredictable and politically problematic.”
With consensus on an immigration game plan unlikely, look for House Republicans to turn their focus to Obamacare’s train wreck of an implementation for the rest of the summer. Unless Democrats can figure out a way to force House Republicans to take up the issue, don’t expect any floor votes any time soon.
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