The Gang of Eight: Not Dead Yet

by Andrew Stiles
Other issues took over, but conservatives are ready to fight immigration when it returns.

Since lawmakers returned from their August recess, the political conservation has focused on the Syrian conflict and upcoming negotiations over government funding and the debt ceiling. As a result, there has been barely any attention paid to what had been one of the most important items on President Obama’s second-term agenda: immigration reform.

Earlier this month, House majority leader Eric Cantor mentioned immigration reform in a memo to GOP members about the upcoming House schedule, but was conspicuously vague about the possibility of advancing legislation.  

“We know that the current legal immigration system is broken and should be fixed in a deliberate and responsible manner,” Cantor wrote. “That is why the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees have produced a number of specific bills which the House may begin considering this fall.”

Several House aides cited the memo in response to questions about the status of immigration reform in the House. A Judiciary Committee aide told National Review Online that committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) is “hopeful that the House will consider these bills sometime this fall.” Goodlatte has said that other issues such as Syria and the debt limit “should not deter us from getting to [immigration] as soon as possible.”

But there are signs that immigration reform lacks the political momentum needed to drag it across the finish line. Last week, the Washington Examiner reported that the seven-member “gang” working on comprehensive immigration legislation in the House has made very little progress, and barely kept in touch during the August recess. Representative Raul Labrador (R., Idaho), a former member of the gang, told Univision that it might not be possible for the House to take up immigration reform until 2015.

However, Cantor has also raised the possibility of canceling a planned recess at the end of September in light of ongoing budget negotiations, which some critics of the Gang of Eight legislation fear could free up to time push an immigration-reform package through the House — a scenario Representative Tom Cole (R., Okla.) recently predicted.

Politically, on the other hand, the contentious budget negotiations could drain House leadership of the political capital needed to take up immigration reform, or, more specifically, to seek a compromise with the Senate, which would be the only way to ensure that reform gets signed into law.

The conservative base is highly skeptical about the Senate immigration bill, not least because they don’t trust the Obama administration to uphold the proposed border-security and immigration-enforcement measures. The base is also deeply distrustful of House leadership, and fears it’s about to get burned again by Republicans unwilling to put up a fight to defund Obamacare.

Whatever the outcome of the upcoming fights over government funding and the debt ceiling, the GOP’s right flank is probably going to be disappointed in some respect, and certainly doesn’t want to see an “amnesty” bill rushed through Congress on top of that. Several aides questioned whether House leaders would have the leverage to tackle immigration reform, and seek a conference with the Senate, after the dust settles. “The more it looks like they’re pissing off the base on [Obamacare], I think the less willing they’ll be willing to piss off the base on immigration,” one Republican aide tells NRO.

Opponents of the Gang of Eight bill remain cautious. They are fully aware of the powerful interests lined up behind the legislation, particularly the Big Business/Big Labor alliance, and don’t expect the issue to fade away. “As a long as a conference committee remains even a remote possibility, this thing isn’t dead yet,” says another GOP aide. “The Republicans powers that be want this to pass, and aren’t going to give up easily.”   

— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.