Key lawmaker sees 200 House Dems backing immigration bill

A key House Democrat said Wednesday that 200 of his colleagues support his immigration reform legislation, putting them short of the majority needed to pass it.

Despite being 17 votes short of a majority, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) expressed hope that the House could pass legislation before the November midterm elections.

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"I am very confident the House can act quickly on legislation," he said on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program. "We are still going to need Republican support ... We don't need a lot of Republicans, but you need some."

Immigration reform legislation has stalled in this Congress alongside other remaining Democratic priorities such as climate and energy legislation. Republicans in the Senate have used the upper chamber's rules to slow down the process on several pieces of legislation that have already passed the House.

Democratic leaders have also been reluctant to bring up more legislation that could pose tough votes for some of their vulnerable members following the work on such sweeping measures as healthcare reform and Wall Street legislation. Right now the House is made up of 255 Democrats and 178 Republicans.

But several signs have emerged recently suggesting Democrats could try to push through an immigration bill. House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said Tuesday that there is still a chance Congress could tackle the issue this year.

President Barack Obama also gave a speech last week urging Congress to act on an immigration reform bill after meeting with grassroots leaders and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), of which Gutierrez is the immigration task force chairman. The administration also filed a lawsuit against Arizona for its controversial immigration law, which helped spark the immigration debate in April.

The House is holding a hearing on immigration reform Tuesday morning.

But Republicans have balked at supporting the Democrats' proposal, saying that the southern border needs to be secured before any immigration bill is taken up that includes a path to citizenship for illegals.

But the Illinois Democrat said border security has already been enhanced with more guards, technology and spending. He argued that it is also important to "deincentivize [illegals]" by allowing them to come to the country legally and cracking down on employers who hire them.

"Unless you deal with it in a holistic fashion, are you really getting security?" he asked, adding later: "We're for border security; we're for new technology.

"[But] sometimes it takes political courage and foresight, and that's why we have elections in November," he said.

Gutierrez declined to name the Republicans he is courting, but he praised Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) for his work on prior reform efforts.