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House GOP leaders to test support for immigration principles

Immigration reform proponents demonstrate during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony December 3. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Thursday is the day that House Republican leaders plan to gauge the appetite of their rank-and-file members for addressing immigration reform this year by presenting broad principles for potential legislation during the GOP caucus’ annual retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that the proposal will likely include a path to legal status, but not citizenship, for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country.

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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday that he and other GOP leaders would wait for the meeting before making any judgments about the path forward. “We’ll have a discussion about immigration reform; we’re going to outline our standards, principles of immigration reform and have a conversation with our members,” he said. “And once that conversation’s over, we’ll get a better feel for what members have in mind.”

Boehner will certainly face opposition from some conservatives who believe that providing legal status to those who came to the country illegally amounts to “amnesty.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a leading opponent of the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year, released a memo ahead of the House GOP retreat warning that the effort was bad policy and bad politics.

He charged that House Republican leaders were “drafting an immigration plan that is uncomfortably similar to a ‘piecemeal’ repackaging of the disastrous Senate plan — and even privately negotiating a final package with Democrat activists before consulting with their own members.”

Sessions added: “A sensible immigration policy would also listen to the opinion of the American people. Not the opinions of the paid-for consultants trotted out with their agenda-driven polls to GOP member meetings — but the actual, honest opinion of the people who sent us here.”

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats appear to be willing to give Republicans room to work through their differences — for now.

The president made only a brief reference to immigration reform during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Speaking with reporters Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the move by GOP leaders “a good faith effort to find common ground.” Still, she added that for Democrats to be on board “there has to be a path to citizenship.”

Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., appeared on the NewsHour Wednesday to react to the president’s speech. Judy Woodruff asked them both about the prospects for immigration reform passing this year given the movement in the House.

Flake, a member of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” that drafted the comprehensive reform proposal last year, said he still believed it was the right course.

“The Senate included a pathway to citizenship. That’s what I prefer, and I think the Senate prefers in general,” Flake said. “The House may say that those who are here illegally can access current avenues to citizenship, but no special path would be created. That would be a kind of hybrid that might win the day. I think that that’s a step forward. I think that’s something that the president could and would accept.”

For his part, Kaine said he hoped a path to citizenship would ultimately make it into a final House-Senate compromise.

“I really want to keep battling for that path to citizenship, because I don’t think having kind of a permanent, locked-in, second-class status is a good idea,” Kaine said. “Getting the House to pass something would be big, and then we have our conferees, and folks like Jeff who worked on the bill hard getting in that room and trying to figure out the best possible deal.”


  • President Obama hit the road Wednesday for the start of a two-day, four-state swing to build support for the agenda he laid out in Tuesday’s State of the Union address. His first stop was a Costco warehouse in Maryland, where he urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Later he promoted his new “MyRA” retirement savings program during a visit to a steel plant outside Pittsburgh. On Thursday the president will travel to a General Electric plant in Waukesha, Wis., and a high school in Nashville.

  • About 33 million people watched the State of the Union, according to Nielsen data released Wednesday. The number is the lowest of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

  • House lawmakers voted 251 – 166 Wednesday to approve a five-year farm bill that preserves most crop subsidies and makes about a 1 percent cut to the food stamp program. The measure, which costs nearly $100 billion a year, is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate next week.

  • Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton was one of 63 Republicans to vote against the farm bill, breaking ranks with his state’s all-GOP House delegation. But as National Journal’s Alex Roarty reports, that’s not the first politically risky vote Cotton’s taken, as he looks to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor later this year. Pryor has already seized on Cotton’s vote.

  • The effort to renew unemployment insurance that expired in November has made some progress, Politico’s Burgess Everett and Manu Raju report. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he will hold a vote to reinstate the benefits next week.

  • Hillary Clinton holds a 6-to-1 lead over other possible Democratic contenders for 2016 — the largest early lead ever, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Republicans lack a clear frontrunner, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in third place behind Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

  • And as Roll Call reports about Pennsylvania, potential Democratic congressional candidates are eyeing Clinton’s coattails, waiting to see if she runs before jumping into their own races.

  • Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist leads current Republican Gov. Rick Scott by eight points — 46 percent to 38 percent — in a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

  • Some Democrats who are facing tough mid-term elections began to distance themselves from the president following the State of the Union.

  • And Democrats are hoping that Congress’ unpopularity will make it a lot harder for GOP House members to win seats in the Senate.

  • Wondering why Mr. Obama chose to highlight red-state Kentucky in the State of the Union? NPR’s Alan Greenblatt has the answer.

  • Newly obtained emails between the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer underscore the pressure put on the mayor to support the development of a billion-dollar office complex in her city from politically connected lawyers working for the Rockefeller Group and the Christie administration.

  • WNYC’s Matt Katz rounds up Christie’s 18 state secrets.

  • Granite State Republicans are tired of playing the waiting game. If Scott Brown, who moved to the state over a month ago, is going to challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, he needs to get going, they say.

  • Meanwhile, Republicans in California are having trouble fielding candidates for state and down-ballot races, including to challenge Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris.

  • National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar thinks Ohio Governor John Kasich is the 2016 GOP presidential contender that Republicans are overlooking.

  • Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., says he called the NY1 reporter he threatened after the State of the Union to apologize and that they’ll be going out to lunch. He blamed his behavior, in part, on a long day fighting for flood insurance. And in case Grimm needed help, Anthony Weiner is offering his advice for dealing with the press.

  • A petition calling on the president to deport Justin Bieber has reached 100,000 signatures, which means the White House is required to issue an official response.


  • We asked NewsHour viewers to submit responses to the State of the Union address and aired some of them on Wednesday’s program. You can find those videos and submit one of your own on our website.

  • Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal joined the NewsHour to give an update on the winter weather wreaking havoc on the South.

  • Margaret Warner reported on the outrage in Germany over U.S. surveillance programs.


Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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