A July meeting of the House GOP conference on immigration reform was not scheduled in response to pressure from conservatives, several Republican leadership offices said Friday.
Behind Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), conservative Republicans have been circulating a petition this week calling on House GOP leaders to stage a special conference meeting on comprehensive reform, according to several news outlets. The idea is to prolong the debate in hopes of killing the bill.
Republican leaders have scheduled such a meeting on July 10. But two GOP leadership offices said Friday that the decision to stage the meeting was not influenced by the conservatives' petition threat.
"It has been in the works for some time," said a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
"We have always planned to hold a special conference on the issue which is scheduled for July 10," echoed a spokesman for the House Republican Conference.
Neither Boehner nor the GOP Conference received an immigration petition this week, the spokesmen said.
Still, the petition drive highlights the dilemma facing House GOP leaders on the topic of immigration.
Boehner and other leaders say they're committed to passing a comprehensive reform package this year, if only to nibble away at the political advantage Democrats have had with Latino voters in recent national elections. But opposition from conservatives in their own conference poses a real threat to such a bill. Indeed, the petition being circulated by Bachmann, King and Gohmert attracted the support of 70 House Republicans, according to The Blaze, a conservative website.
The offices of Bachmann, King and Gohmert did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Boehner has riled conservatives on numerous occasions by passing bills that were opposed by a majority of his GOP conference — a dynamic that many Republicans fear will also govern the immigration bill.
"It’ll be Nancy Pelosi leading all the House Democrats to vote for it, and just enough Republicans will vote for the bill and you’ll have amnesty,” Bachmann said this week in an interview with WorldNetDaily (WND), a conservative website.
The conservatives fear that, politically, the Democrats will benefit overwhelmingly by the creation of a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.
"This is President Obama’s number one political agenda item because he knows we will never again have a Republican president, ever, if amnesty goes into effect," Bachmann told WND. "We will perpetually have a progressive, liberal president — probably a Democrat — and we will probably see the House of Representatives go into Democrat hands and the Senate will stay in Democrat hands.”
The conservatives are challenging Boehner to return to the Hastert Rule, an unwritten code — adopted by former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) — dictating that bills must have the support of the majority of Republicans before they come to the floor.
Boehner, for his part, is vowing to find a way to pass immigration reform without alienating his troops.
"My goal is always to bring bills to the floor that have a strong Republican majority," he said Thursday at a press conference in the Capitol.
"Immigration reform is a very difficult issue," he added. "But I don't intend to bring an immigration bill to the floor that violates what I and the members of my party, what our principles are."
--This report was updated at 7:58 p.m.