House Democrats went public Wednesday with their frustration over Republicans’ inaction on immigration by introducing their own measure that has no chance of going anywhere. Their message was twofold: To House Speaker John Boehner, they effectively said, “We’re ready. You’re not”; to immigration-reform advocates who are planning a host of rallies in Washington this weekend, they said, “We hear you.”
The Democrats are crying foul on what they view as a small group of Republicans who are blocking further negotiations. But their action is also a tacit admission that the bipartisan negotiations on immigration in the House have broken down. Now the accusations can fly.
“We’re standing with this bill. It has broad bipartisan support. If something doesn’t happen in Congress, then I think the only answer is that the people in charge of the House of Representatives didn’t want it to go anywhere,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, fired back with one of the more emphatic statements from House GOP leaders that they intend to act on immigration. But first, he said, the current fiscal crisis needs to be solved. And there’s no guarantee of that. “Once Washington Democrats allow us to reopen the federal government, House Republicans will continue to work on common-sense, step-by-step reforms to our broken immigration system,” Steel said.
The House Democratic proposal is a mirror of the comprehensive immigration-reform bill passed by the Senate in June, and includes a path to citizenship. The major difference is that it swaps out the $46 billion Senate border-security component — which House members in both parties have derided — in favor of a House border-security bill that enjoys wide support, authored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and passed unanimously out of his committee.
Both pieces of the House Democratic proposal have bipartisan support, but the total package does not have any House Republicans on board.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., said the bill’s introduction reflects Democrats’ desire to do something on immigration, even if it winds up being a hollow gesture to people who want the issue addressed. “Back in July, they wanted to introduce legislation. We said, “˜Wait a minute, give the House working group a chance to do something’,” said Becerra, who was a member of the House’s “Gang of Eight” Republicans and Democrats that had been negotiating a broad immigration bill for several years.
“We didn’t produce something as a group,” Becerra said of the bipartisan House “gang,” which broke up a few weeks ago when Reps. John Carter, R-Texas, and Sam Johnson, R-Texas, abandoned the talks over a variety of unrelated complaints about President Obama. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, had left the group earlier in the year.
The bill introduction also was intended to shore up support from the dozens of immigration-reform groups that are planning protests and rallies this weekend to call for action. Those groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union, United We Dream, America’s Voice, and a coalition of gay-rights advocates — applauded the House’s Democrats’ bill.
But some of the staunchest supporters of immigration reform are wary of the new move. The Dream Action Coalition, a group that has also been critical of President Obama on immigration, is skeptical that the House Democrats’ move is anything more than a political ploy. “Unfortunately, Democrats know Republican leadership will not touch anything being led by [Minority] Leader [Nancy] Pelosi,” the group said in a statement.
The idea that the House could move ahead on something as contentious and difficult as immigration reform was being touted under the cloud of a government shutdown. Pelosi repeatedly said that the immigration bill was a bipartisan one. But there are no Republican cosponsors as of this writing. “This is not a challenge to the speaker, this is a suggestion,” Pelosi said. “The speaker has said he’s going to bring something to the floor. We’d like it to have the characteristics of comprehensive immigration reform.”
Boehner has repeatedly stated that he will not bring anything like the Senate-passed bill to the House floor. He is facing opposition within his own caucus from bringing any type of immigration bill to the floor, no matter how conservative, for fear that it will push a conference committee with the Senate that would require the Republicans to legalize unauthorized immigrants.