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The Top 10 House GOP Members that Matter on Immigration Reform

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The following is a compilation of the top ten Republican members of the House that will influence and ultimately decide what immigration measures are brought to the House floor. This list includes members of leadership as well as those that must take on the issue from their key committee post or role as leader of the Republican brand. These deciders must choose between the future of the Republican Party or allowing the Steve King caucus to drive the party off the demographic cliff.


1.       JOHN BOEHNER (OH-8)

Why he matters: As Speaker of the House, Boehner is the one who will make the final decision about which bills are voted on by the full House—so more than anyone else, the future of immigration reform is in his hands.

More: Boehner has said he will adhere to the “Hastert Rule,” which means he will not bring any bill to the floor unless a majority of House Republicans will vote for it—even if the bill has broad bipartisan support. But he has broken the Hastert Rule for other bills that have a bipartisan majority. Many in his caucus are pressuring him not to take action because his party is divided on the issue; can the American people put more pressure on him to be a leader?


2.       PAUL RYAN (WI-1)

Why he matters: He’s a rising star in his party, a former Vice Presidential nominee (and likely future presidential candidate), and a supporter of a path to citizenship.

More: Ryan has said that a path to citizenship could pass the House if they were allowed to vote on it, and even noted (which he’s since clarified) Boehner could bring a bill up for a vote even if it didn’t have the support of a majority of the GOP. He must continue to be a champion of a path to citizenship, to persuade his party that it is an essential part of immigration reform.


3.       RAUL LABRADOR (ID-1)

Why he matters: A Latino conservative trying to make a name for himself, other Republicans will look to him for guidance—but will he be Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz? Labrador is also respected among House Republicans as one of the Tea Party leaders. He also voted against Boehner for House Speaker.

More: Labrador was a member of the bipartisan House “Gang of 8” working on a comprehensive bill earlier this year, but left the group. He has repeatedly threatened that House Democrats will kill immigration reform unless they are willing to be flexible on a path to citizenship for the 11 million. But his district is 10% Latino, and as a former immigration lawyer (something he incessantly reminds everyone of), he understands the need for action. Will he spend less time blaming the other party’s stubbornness and more time trying to change his own?


4.       ERIC CANTOR (VA-7)

Why he matters: Both officially (as House Majority Leader) and unofficially, Cantor is the voice of the GOP’s conservative wing in the House.

More: Unlike Boehner, who refuses to take a stand on a path to citizenship, Cantor has been outspoken on the issue this year: citizenship for DREAMers, but not for the rest of the undocumented. If Cantor decides to use his power to oppose a path to citizenship, it will be much harder for others in the GOP to support it. Cantor cares about the future of his party—can he be persuaded that a path to citizenship is an important part of the solution? From Virginia, Cantor’s state, has in the last two elections gone for President Obama but has a Republican legislature. His management of this issue will be critical in the coming gubernatorial election and for the future of the Republican Party in Virginia.


5.       BOB GOODLATTE (VA-6)

Why he matters: As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte has a lot of power over any immigration legislation—and he seems to want to pass anything but a path to citizenship.

More: Goodlatte claims he wants to take a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. The pieces his committee has passed so far range from bad (a mandatory E-Verify bill without legalization or due-process protections for legal immigrants) to worse (the SAFE Act, which nationalizes the Arizona law and follows the Sensenbrenner bill in criminalizing all 11 million). He is reportedly working on the “KIDS Act” for DREAMers, but no bill has been introduced. What he thinks should be done with the rest of the 11 million is unclear—whether he will be willing to allow a bill with a path to citizenship to go through committee to the full House, even less so. He will be key in deciding what immigration bills are brought to the floor, and if new bills—including the Gang of 7 bill—are introduced and moved through the Judiciary Committee.


6.       TREY GOWDY (SC-4)

Why he matters: As the chair of the Immigration Subcommittee in the House, Gowdy is working closely with Goodlatte on the GOP’s immigration legislation.

More: Gowdy has presided over several immigration hearings addressing many of the issues that have led to our broken immigration system, and has shown some interest in addressing those but has come short of supporting a path to citizenship for the 11 million. As Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee he has developed a relationship with Rep. Luis Gutierrez. He is adverse to criticism—he gets upset whenever anyone says he wants to deport the undocumented (though he voted for the SAFE Act) and keeps insisting that the committee will take up a bill to address them. Where he will be in the future as the House continues to debate immigration reform is very much open to question.


7.       MARIO DIAZ-BALART (FL-25)*

Why he matters: The most longstanding champion of immigration reform in the House GOP, he plays a crucial role in the bipartisan “Gang of 7” whose actions will shape the next few months in the House.

More: The bill Diaz-Balart is working on, along with 2 other Republicans (John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas) and 4 Democrats, is the only prospective bill with both Republican support and a path to citizenship. But when, or whether, the bill will be introduced at all is yet unknown. What the Gang of 7 decides to do with its bill will be crucial in determining how the House looks at immigration reform, and what components are included. And while Diaz-Balart hardly needs to be persuaded that immigration reform is good for his district, we should point out that it’s not only 70% Latino but that it’s increasingly purple (Romney only won it by 2 percentage points).


8.       KEVIN MCCARTHY (CA-23)

Why he matters: Another member of House leadership whose opinion carries weight with conservatives—and the only one with a sizable Latino population in his own district.

More: As Majority Whip, McCarthy is the third-ranking Republican in the House (after Boehner and Cantor) and is in charge of keeping members in line on votes. But as a California Republican, he understands the risks for his party if it doesn’t embrace reform—and while he’s in a pretty safe seat, his district is 35% Latino and very agricultural. Will he make the connection from what’s best for his own district to what’s best for the country?


9.       MICHAEL MCCAUL (TX-10)

Why he matters: As head of the House Homeland Security Committee, McCaul is the most important voice on border security in the House GOP.

More: McCaul wrote a border security bill that very quietly passed the Homeland Security Committee with unanimous support earlier this year—but was also endorsed by Sen. John Cornyn. His credibility within the party on border issues means his support will be crucial to any immigration package. (His district is also 26% Latino.) But does McCaul see a path to citizenship as necessary to improve homeland security, like reformers do, or does he join Cornyn in believing that border security can only be achieved on the backs of the undocumented?


10.   GREG WALDEN (OR-2)

Why he matters: As head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, he cares about his party’s political future—which might be why he’s endorsed a path to citizenship.

More: Walden isn’t officially a member of Republican leadership, but he’s certainly an important figure for any Republican worried about his seat. (His own seat, while safe, is  12% Latino and has agricultural interests.) In June, he told USA Today that he believes undocumented immigrants should eventually be eligible for citizenship. He understands the need for his party to embrace reform—the question is whether he will be able to take a leadership role in persuading his caucus not to commit demographic suicide.