The most influential House Member on immigration is not the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) or the Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), but Democrat Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).
It is impossible to imagine how immigration reform can pass the House without the backing of Rep. Gutierrez. He is willing to pressure or work with anyone—Republican or Democrat—because his only goal is to get reform with a path to citizenship passed. Given the direction of the debate in the House, recent comments from Rep. Gutierrez offer a reminder that he can provide tremendous cover for Republicans if they choose to do the right thing on immigration, or make the Republican Party pay a tremendous price for failing to do so.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
Rep. Luis Gutierrez is a rock star in Latino communities throughout the country, the go-to voice on immigration in the press, and the rare Washington player more concerned with the end victory than the attribution of credit or the political implications. He has bent over backwards to work with Republicans in the House to craft a bi-partisan approach. If the GOP is serious about improving the Party’s image with Latino voters, he will be their number one ally and if not, he’ll be their number one enemy. It’s up to leadership to decide.
While much of the current House analysis focuses on the latest transparent excuses from House Republican leaders’ that are designed to slow-walk the reform effort and the dangers of entrusting Bob Goodlatte with a lead policy role, recent comments and promises from Rep. Gutierrez deserve greater attention. Rep. Gutierrez, who continues to work on a bi-partisan immigration bill with House conservatives, assesses, “we know we already have a majority…It exists. We’ve fought for it” (two dozen House Republicans have voiced support for a path to citizenship and leading House Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has indicated that there are “at least 200 Democratic votes” for reform with citizenship). However, in light of House Republican leadership seeming disturbingly content with slow-walking the process and allowing Rep. Goodlatte to advance a series of disqualifying and counterproductive proposals, Gutierrez is also correct in expressing his frustration that, thus far, “they won’t allow us to vote” on a reform bill with citizenship.
Critically, as we gear up for the end of August recess and the legislative work ahead, Rep. Gutierrez is now making it clear that he won’t just throw up his hands if House Republican leaders continue to slow-walk the effort. Speaking of the bi-partisan Group of 7 bill, Rep. Gutierrez said:
I’m ready to go. I’m ready to make an announcement. I’m ready to have a bipartisan deal. If we don’t work with this group of seven then we will find another group of eight, but we’re going to find another group of something that’s going to bring us to a solution in the House of Representatives. We refuse to let the people down. We refuse to lose. We’re going to continue to fight.
It is now time for my Republican colleagues to step forward and to announce a date. If they give me a date, I’ll be there and we’ll present legislation and present it to the public. I’m done. I’m ready. They need to step forward…If the group of 7 doesn’t have a solution, then we’ll build a new group. We’ll build a new group until we have a group of people that allows us to have 218 votes one day. But we refuse to take no as an answer.
The August recess has shown that a growing number of House Republicans want a path to citizenship – and the path to achieve that is through a bi-partisan effort. In negotiating the bipartisan bill, Reps. Gutierrez, Lofgren, and Becerra have pushed the envelope on policy to come up with something that can garner significant Republican support without betraying their core principles. Yet Speaker Boehner and Republican leaders are giving their reform-minded colleagues no place to go. We’ll know in the fall where Republican leaders stand. If they’re looking for a result, they’ll work with Gutierrez and other champions. If they’re looking to get to ‘no’ and to set up a blame game, they won’t.