He has since taken the lead on drafting the “Kids Act,” a Republican version of the DREAM Act, which, according to a GOP lawmaker with knowledge of the situation, is finished and awaiting introduction.
Though he is clearly anxious to see the House pass some immigration bills to help with the messaging effort, Cantor is generally considered the person in the upper echelon of GOP leadership most likely to put the brakes on any big, comprehensive bill that conservatives perceive as problematic. On the other side of the aisle, key Democrats are already convinced his actions are just for show.
Insiders note that Cantor could conceivably tackle the issue as speaker in 2015, perhaps making him less likely to want to see a bill cross the finish line into enactment now.
Whip Kevin McCarthy
For all the criticisms of his vote-corralling abilities, McCarthy clearly possesses one of the party’s best political minds. A top recruiter of political talent, the California Republican has a broad and deep knowledge of the nation’s district-by-district landscape.
It’s from that perspective, first and foremost, that he approaches the issue, and McCarthy is definitely in the camp that solving the problem is critical for the GOP’s long-term political future.
For that reason, and given his policy views on the subject, one would think McCarthy should be considered a top proponent of a comprehensive bill. However, his role as whip means he’s inherently more likely to be a voice of caution. McCarthy has talked openly about how he’s often the one who has to tell Boehner “no” — that the votes just aren’t there. He also has to protect the perception of him as an honest broker between leadership and the rank-and-file.
With his own views pulling him one way and the demands of his position pulling him the other, McCarthy is a neutral force.
Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte
One of the untold stories of the immigration debate in the House thus far is how much it has been Bob Goodlatte’s show. The conservative Virginia Republican has arguably been more pivotal than Boehner in driving the House’s approach to the issue. For example, despite Boehner’s involvement in the Gang of Seven’s work toward a big, comprehensive bill, it is Goodlatte’s piecemeal approach that has prevailed for now.
A former immigration attorney, Goodlatte is an old hand on the subject and is proceeding methodically, with plenty of hearings, markups, and expert testimony. He has a thinly disguised disdain for how the Senate bill came together and told me, “I think it’s important that we get this done right, and that is far more important to me than when we get it done.”
Even before Boehner made his Hastert-rule vows, Goodlatte was proclaiming the need to follow the informal precept. And when Cantor recently sought to allow an amendment from Representative Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) to allow illegal aliens to join the military to obtain citizenship, Goodlatte killed the idea on the House floor, showing he’s not afraid to throw his weight around.
Budget Chairman Paul Ryan
Like Goodlatte, Ryan is stepping into the vacuum created by Boehner’s relatively weak standing, becoming a big player behind the scenes and in the media.
But the counterpart to Goodlatte’s caution is Ryan’s zeal. Ryan clearly wants an immigration law the most of any of the major players — prompting questions about what kind of bill he might be willing to accept to get it.
The Wisconsin Republican has become something of a spokesman for the Gang of Seven both to fellow Republicans and in public, even though their legislation has not been introduced. He’s talking to members individually and explaining the Gang’s bill, but says he can’t be considered part of their group because he never participated in the negotiations.
Somewhat surprisingly, given his level of involvement, Ryan has not sat in on many of the leadership meetings about how the House should proceed. In part this is because the committee he chairs has no jurisdiction over immigration — something surely not lost on Goodlatte, who has engaged in several turf battles since taking the judiciary chairman’s gavel in January.
“My job is to help bring Republicans to consensus,” Ryan told me.
— Jonathan Strong is a political reporter for National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter @j_strong.