House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio defends spending money to argue for the law.
(Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- Senate passage of a comprehensive immigration overhaul sparked no excitement in the GOP-controlled House, where Republican leaders continue to oppose the Senate bill in favor of a piecemeal approach to addressing the nation's immigration system.
"The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We're going to do our own bill through regular order, and it'll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "And for any legislation, including a (final bill), to pass the House, it's going to have to be a bill that has the support of the majority of our members."
Boehner has faced criticism in his own party for passing major legislation - including the bill at the start of the year to avert the "fiscal cliff" - by relying on the support of House Democrats to overcome the opposition of conservative Republicans. He vowed Thursday that he would not do so on immigration.
House Republicans will hold a special closed-door meeting July 10 to discuss the way forward on immigration, but leading lawmakers have made clear that there is broad opposition to the Senate's comprehensive approach and little GOP interest in a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants until the U.S.-Mexican border is secured.
"My view is: Break this down. Break it down into smaller components," said Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., a top vote-counter for Republicans. "Clearly where our conference is, is all about trying to deal with a secure border. Once there is a level of confidence on a secure border, then you can begin to move forward on these other elements."
Roskam said House Republicans are wary of any legislation the size and scope of the Senate bill because it is reminiscent to GOP lawmakers of President Obama's health care law. There is also a generally held view among Republicans that bills that size are politically perilous because the public doesn't trust them.
"The House has no capacity to move that (Senate) bill in its entirety. It just won't happen. It is a pipedream to think that that bill is going to go to the floor and be voted on," he said.
The bill is politically difficult for most House Republicans, who represent less diverse and more conservative districts after the 2012 process that redrew district lines based on population shifts. According to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, about 80% of House Republicans represent districts so conservative they are unlikely to ever face a general election threat. In that climate, Republicans are more likely to face primary election threats, and immigration has long been a divisive issue within the GOP.
Instead, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has been moving bills that deal with isolated components of immigration.
Last week, the committee passed bills that would revamp the visa system for agricultural workers and encourage state and local law enforcement agencies to help enforce federal immigration laws. This week, it worked on bills that would provide more work visas to foreigners trained in high-tech fields and nationalize a program requiring business owners to check the immigration status of new hires.
No bills have been filed to address the central questions of border security and a pathway to citizenship. And none of the bills heard in the Judiciary Committee has received any Democratic support because of how they approach each issue.
There is considerably more support among House Democrats for a Senate-style comprehensive overhaul that includes both border security and a pathway to citizenship, and House Democratic leaders have warned Republicans that a piecemeal approach is less likely to win Democratic support.
"There are obviously some issues which have greater support than others, and to simply adopt those that have an economic consequence to the business community or other people without addressing the issues of families and immigrants, employers, I think would be a mistake," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the party's top vote counter.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told USA TODAY's "Capital Download" that "at the end of the day we have to have a path to citizenship" for Democrats to support a final bill.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., is one of the members of a bipartisan group of representatives trying to craft an all-encompassing bill similar to the one passed by the Senate.
He said he has been disappointed by individual Republican bills fueled by "vitriolic rhetoric that is being used to support them, the criminalization of immigrants." He worries that approach will lead to partisan attacks on both sides that will kill any chance of reaching a compromise with the Senate.
"We will start the process of condemnation and demonization," Gutierrez said of the bills advancing in the House. "But does that lead us to a solution?"
Instead, he said, his group hopes to offer a bill after the July 4 recess that both Democrats and Republicans can embrace. He will appear alongside Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., on CNN on Sunday to show a sign of bipartisanship and will join Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada on Monday for a symbolic passing of the torch on immigration.
Gutierrez said he plans to prove that not all House Republicans are opposed to a comprehensive bill. "If you create an avenue for Democrats and Republicans to work together to be a counterpoint to Goodlatte, that's something people can rally for vs. something they can rally against."
Some senators warn House Republicans that blocking the bill could doom GOP prospects for a White House victory in 2016.
"We've hit a demographic wall," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a leading GOP proponent of the Senate overhaul. "If we can't grow our numbers among particularly Hispanics, it's pretty hard to win the White House in 2016." Although the party's economic agenda is popular with Hispanics, "it's hard to sell your economic agenda if they think they're going to deport your grandmother," he said.