Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) recently generated wide attention by mocking his fellow House Republicans’ unwillingness to tackle immigration reform. Yet the tough words from the Speaker about his conference belie the simple fact that Speaker Boehner himself could put immigration reform to a floor vote if he so desired and that a vote on reform would receive enough votes for passage.
Following Speaker Boehner’s comments and some other remarks from House Republicans, some observers are finding renewed hope for legislative action. Unfortunately, their record on immigration shows they are more likely, once again, to be setting up a blame game and trying to muddy the waters about the fact that they alone are to blame for blocking immigration reform legislation. With the results of the Obama Administration’s DHS deportation policy review arriving in the near future and likely to include some relatively minor, common-sense reforms, the smart money is on House Republicans simply positioning themselves to once again blame the Obama Administration for scuttling immigration reform. Can’t you already see the press statement? “We won’t be pursuing immigration reform this Congress thanks to President Obama and the DHS announcement today. We were just about to take legislative action on immigration, but President Obama proved he couldn’t be trusted to enforce the law. He is to blame for immigration reform’s failure.”
Speaker Boehner is not alone among House Republicans in raising expectations on immigration in recent days. Last week, the Republican conference chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers said, “I believe there is a path that we get a bill on the floor by August.” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) said, “We’re going to do step-by-step approach with individual bills on individual subject matters. The subject that I’ve taken up is on the military,” referring to the ENLIST Act, “but that’s certainly not the end all on immigration reform…we need to come up with a permanent solution that we’re not, 20 or 30 years from now, wringing our hands again and saying, ‘We have a broken immigration system.’” Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said that he was, in the words of the Dallas Morning News, “close to introducing a sweeping proposal that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system. The plan will include a path to citizenship for undocumented children and a mechanism to give legal status to adults in the country illegally who have not committed other crimes. Barton, R-Arlington, said his bill would be ready in a month to six weeks.” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said to CQ Roll Call about immigration reform in the House, “It is as close as we have ever been. It is still a big, big, heavy lift…I think we’re going to get there.”
Despite this optimistic talk, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) recently issued the House Republicans’ spring legislative agenda reflecting their impending legislative focus areas and immigration was nowhere to be found in the memo. The happy talk and optimism from some Republicans continues to be just that – talk and no action. The Barton bill joins a host of Republican pro-reform bills which thus far exist only in talking points and press accounts. And even the referenced military DREAMer bill touted by Rep. Coffman has already run into hardline resistance with no signs it will receive a vote.
President Obama does not decide which bills get votes on the House floor—House Republican leadership does. And so far the only immigration votes held on the House floor this Congress have been on Steve King-inspired measures designed to hurt immigrants, not commonsense reform.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
For the past two years, these promised Republican bills have been perpetually just out of reach and six weeks away from being introduced. Well, time is up. Despite having the power to act, they remain long on rhetoric but pathetically short on action. Until we see something concrete soon, we’ve learned we can’t take Republican immigration talk at face value.
The clock is ticking toward a legislative deadline at the end of June. There’s a simple way House Republicans can prove that they are serious about delivering on immigration in the interim. The first step is to actually introduce the legislation they are touting and to actually hold votes on reform bills. No amount of blame shifting can distract from the simple truth that the House could pass immigration reform if Republicans started turned their rhetoric into actual bill text and actual floor votes.