Just as the momentum is building in the Senate, there are major red flags for a comprehensive immigration bill in the House.
Representative Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, yesterday hosted a hearing essentially designed to argue against the Senate bill championed by a “gang of eight.”
Meanwhile, a House bipartisan “gang” that announced a deal only a week ago is increasingly beset by infighting and may be crippled by the concerns of minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Representative Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) is now openly questioning whether Democratic members of the group are acting in good faith, while Democratic representative Luis Gutiérrez says he is livid about leaks of its deliberations.
“Waking up every morning to this blow-by-blow interpretation of everything that happens, God!” Gutierrez tells National Review, adding, “What is this? Where is it coming from? I cannot fathom where it is coming from.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out that chamber’s bill on Tuesday, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said he would not block the bill from coming to the floor. McConnell’s comments were received by the bill’s opponents as tacit support for the bill, although he said on Fox News yesterday he is undecided about how he will vote on it.
Nonetheless, heading into a floor debate in early June, the Senate gang — led by Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) — has considerable momentum, especially with Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch signing on after negotiating a deal on visas for high-skilled workers.
But at the House Judiciary Committee hearing, Goodlatte for the first time detailed his concerns about the Senate bill, saying it is doomed to repeat the mistakes of a 1986 amnesty bill.
The Senate bill “is unlikely to secure the border,” Goodlatte said in his opening statement. Referring to a provision of the Senate bill requiring that the Department of Homeland Security submit a border-enforcement strategy, Goodlatte noted that “the strategy does not have to be complete or even more than a fantasy.”
A trio of immigration experts testifying before the panel said the Senate bill had no mechanism to ensure the president enforces the law, would actually weaken enforcement from current law in some places, and would initially repeal the existing “E-Verify” program before delaying a replacement for five to seven years.
Republican members of the committee include some of the House’s fiercest opponents of the Senate immigration bill, including Representatives Lamar Smith (Tex.), Steve King (Iowa), and Louie Gohmert (Tex.), who used their questions to poke holes in the Senate legislation. Under questioning from Smith, for example, the experts concluded that there was no deadline in the Senate bill by which the border would need to be secured.
Meanwhile, the House’s secretive bipartisan immigration group is again coming apart at the seams, even after members announced they had a “deal in principle” last week. “I thought we had a deal, we actually accepted the language Democrats wrote, because they wouldn’t accept my language, and now [Representative Xavier] Becerra [Calif.] and the Democratic leadership are apparently moving away from their own language,” said Raul Labrador on Monday, adding: “You need to ask Xavier and the Democratic leadership whether they have bad faith or not.”
At issue is whether illegal immigrants afforded citizenship will be required to pay for their own health insurance, rather than rely on government subsidies. A Democratic leadership aide said Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are “simply trying to clarify the language.” But Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, a strong proponent of the Senate bill who has been pushing for a comprehensive bill in both chambers, said the group has been weathering Pelosi’s intervention for some time.
“Pelosi has been trying to undermine the project. The [Democrats] stood up to her, and continued. She wasn’t upset about this, that, or the other thing, she was upset about the bill passing,” Norquist said.
A GOP House aide with knowledge of the process added, “House Democrats are more interested in political posturing than actually passing an immigration bill. It makes most of us less confident something will actually pass in the House.”
Parsing the blame may be impossible, but the level of back-channel sniping is generally not a good sign for the group’s prospects.
— Jonathan Strong is a political reporter for National Review Online.