House Immigration 'Gang' Struggles, GOP Hints at Republican Bill

Rebecca Kaplan

As the House group struggling to write a bipartisan immigration bill huddled in the Capitol on Thursday, Republican leadership indicated its wait-and-see approach was over.

"Through regular order, the House will work its will and produce its own legislation," said a statement issued by Republican leaders, including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.

The implication was clear. While the Senate "gang" produced a bill, the House will have one of its own. And no matter what the House group is doing, or failing to get done, behind closed doors, the House's immigration bill will move through Goodlatte's committee if it is to carry a stamp of approval from Republican leaders. 

The statement came shortly after Boehner accused members of both parties of working against a potential deal.

“I’ve gotta say there are people on both sides of the aisle who have done their best to try to undermine their ability to get to an agreement,” Boehner said.

The leaders' statement followed another round of fatal-sounding warnings that one Republican or another was walking away from the table. This time it was Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who threatened to draft a GOP bill if the group does not overcome lingering issues.

Indeed, statements from various Republicans appear to all but promise a GOP-only bill will be produced the moment the House group collapses for good.

Republican leaders chimed in because they are worried that if the Senate passes its reform bill, which moved out of Senate Judiciary with an additional GOP vote from Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, enormous pressure will be put on the House to approve the upper chamber's legislation immediately, a senior House GOP leadership aide said. 

"Our release basically said, 'Good work, Senate, but we are not going to eat your bill once it comes over here. We have some other options, ideas, and we’ll work through them and see what comes of the House process,' " the aide said. 

It's still unclear, the aide said, whether the House working group can agree on a proposal.

After huddling on the first floor of the Capitol in a members-only meeting, the House gang proclaimed once again that it had a deal on outstanding issues. And although Labrador said he is not yet starting work on his own bill, he cautioned that other issues could emerge once final language is drafted.

The members had similarly appeared to reach an agreement last week, but talks threatened to fall apart after objections from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Republicans said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., went so far as to say a deal appears to hang on satisfying Pelosi and that President Obama should call his House ally to get negotiations to move forward again.

"I'm sure if he spoke to Nancy Pelosi, she would agree to move forward," Diaz-Balart said.

Details of the agreement as described by Labrador indicated little if anything had changed as a result of Thursday's meeting--he characterized what was discussed as “some clarification”--casting doubt over whether the new détente between the two sides will hold.

If the talks fall apart for good after recess, the most likely vehicle for Republican legislation will be a Labrador-authored comprehensive GOP bill, or some combination of Republican-authored bills dealing with E-Verify, agricultural guest workers, and high-skilled immigration that have been introduced into the Judiciary Committee.