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House Republicans Huddling on Immigration With No Clear Consensus

House Speaker John Boehner on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Morning Line

House Republicans will have a meeting of the minds Wednesday, but it remains unclear if the fractious group of lawmakers will be able to reach a consensus on a path forward with immigration reform.

Despite pressure from the Senate, which last month convincingly passed a bipartisan plan, and calls from the White House and advocacy groups asking for haste, there is no indication House lawmakers feel the same sense of urgency to pass legislation.

One thing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has made clear is that his chamber will craft its own immigration bill rather than take up the Senate version.

“We all believe that if we’re going to go forward on immigration reform, the first big step is you have to have serious border security because without serious border security, what you’re going to end up with is the same thing we saw after the 1986 act,” Boehner said Tuesday. “We believe that a commonsense, step-by-step approach is the right way. We’ve talked about it for months. We’re going to talk to our members about it tomorrow.”

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei write in Politico that the deliberative pace in the House could cause the push to reform the immigration system to stall out:

Republicans walked away from their 2012 debacle hell-bent on fixing their problems with Hispanics. Now, they appear hell-bent on making them worse.

In private conversations, top Republicans on Capitol Hill now predict comprehensive immigration reform will die a slow, months-long death in the House. Like with background checks for gun buyers, the conventional wisdom that the party would never kill immigration reform, and risk further alienating Hispanic voters, was always wrong — and ignored the reality that most House Republicans are white conservatives representing mostly white districts.

These members, and the vast majority of their voters, couldn’t care less whether Marco Rubio, Bill O’Reilly and Karl Rove say this is smart politics and policy.

As Boehner seeks to wrangle his unruly conference, he is not getting any help from the top Democrat in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., charged Tuesday that the speaker was having difficulty controlling his members on a wide range of issues, including immigration.

“Speaker Boehner is trying to decide where he is. Pick an issue. How about the farm bill? Last year’s farm bill, this year’s farm bill. He has dissension in his own ranks. We know that,” Reid told reporters at a Capitol Hill stakeout. “He is saying the bipartisan bill that we have done, he is not going to touch that. Well, we’re going to continue to press. The American people, the vast majority of the American people, Democrats and Republicans, support what we did.”

The Senate proposal would create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country and would bolster security along the southern border through the hiring of additional border patrol agents and completing 700 miles of fencing. It passed late last month on a 68 to 32 vote, with 14 Republicans joining all 54 Senate Democrats to back the measure.

But if recent history is any guide, a strong showing in the Senate does not guarantee a similar result in the House.

The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake highlight six previous votes in the House that have seen GOP leaders struggle to keep the varying factions of the conference together and note those battles could be a preview of what is to come for Republicans on immigration reform:

The six votes that have proved most divisive for the GOP conference since the November election — on the fiscal cliff, Hurricane Sandy relief, the debt limit, the Violence Against Women Act, the farm bill and the selection of a speaker — each seemed to leave Boehner and his team in a weaker position for the next round of battle. And immigration may be the toughest test yet for Republicans, who will be grappling with difficult questions about border security and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

All told, 69 of 234 House Republicans (nearly 30 percent) have voted against leadership on at least half of the six key votes, and a majority — 134 out of 234– has departed from the leadership on at least two of the six votes, according to the Washington Post review.

The six key votes are not a perfect predictor of how members will vote on immigration, but they show how little emphasis members place on party unity these days.

With the debate formally getting underway in the House, the Huffington Post put together an interactive whip count outlining how members are likely to vote on immigration reform, with nearly 140 lawmakers, mostly Republicans, listed as “unknown.”

President Barack Obama’s White House, meanwhile, Wednesday morning released a report on the economic impact of a comprehensive bill. The report focused mainly on a June Congressional Budget Office estimate that found the legislation would reduce the deficit and argued there are “high costs” to inaction.

“[I]mmigration reform will ultimately increase overall U.S. productivity, resulting in higher GDP and higher wages,” the report read. “Bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows and into the legal economy also helps put a stop to practices that undercut wages and worsen working conditions for American workers. This bill also has provisions to protect U.S. workers and ensure that new worksite enforcement and border security measures deter future illegal immigration.”

And former President George W. Bush, whose legacy has been burnished in recent months, will make the case for reform at a naturalization ceremony at his presidential library Wednesday. We’ll have video of the 9 a.m. event.

As part of the NewsHour’s ongoing look at immigration reform, Ray Suarez spoke Tuesday with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., about his border security proposal and prospects for Congress passing a bill this year.

Watch the segment here or below:

Ray will speak with Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. and Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, on the show Wednesday.

See our other interviews with lawmakers and track every piece of the debate on our immigration page.


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Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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