House Republicans will pose the only real obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform this year, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) predicted Monday.
Noting that the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight is reportedly on the cusp of an agreement, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said the fate of legislation will depend on whether House GOP leaders "want to cross their Tea Party extremist base" in support of a compromise.
"In the House, the Republicans are going to have to decide, 'Do they want to cross their base?'" Israel said in an interview on MSNBC.
"In the Senate, you're going to have Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives agree on something. The Chamber of Commerce and labor agree on something. Only House Republicans could stop it now."
The issue has huge political ramifications, as Latino voters have come out in overwhelming favor of Democrats in recent election cycles. In response, GOP leaders have endorsed the notion of comprehensive immigration reform, in hopes of claiming some victory on the issue and winning some of those voters to their side.
Israel's remarks are an early sign that Democrats intend to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the GOP in the event that Congress fails to get a bill across the finish line this year.
Meanwhile, the momentum behind an immigration reform push is gaining steam. Over the weekend, leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO announced that they've reached an agreement on the contours of a guest-worker program that would allow a steady flow of low-skilled workers into the country on a temporary basis — a major sticking point in past efforts to get a comprehensive immigration deal.
The other huge barrier to an agreement has been the question of what to do with the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. President Obama, most Democrats and human rights groups want to allow those people to remain in the country and eventually become eligible for U.S. citizenship — a plan that's also been endorsed by Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE (R-Fla.), Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Graham: 'I'm glad' Ivanka will be working in the White House Trump tweets promotion for Fox News show MORE (R-S.C.) and the Gang of Eight.
But a number of conservative House Republicans argue that anything less than the mass deportation of those living in the country illegally would constitute "amnesty" for people who have broken the law. Although both Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE (R-Ohio) and House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteWeek ahead: Senate takes aim at Obama-era 'blacklisting' rule House panel blocks Dem effort on Trump's potential business conflicts House panel to hold hearing on foreign surveillance law MORE (R-Va.) have expressed optimism that comprehensive reform is possible this year, it remains to be seen how hard GOP leaders will push back against the inevitable outcry from Tea Party conservatives over the citizenship question.
Israel warned that, if the past two years are any guide, Republican leaders likely won't challenge their most conservative troops on the issue, leaving the fate of comprehensive immigration reform up in the air.
"So far, they have not shown ability to compromise. They are inflexible. They are chaotic. They put politics ahead of solutions," Israel charged. "If they continue down that route, then I'm less optimistic. They have to make a fundamental decision: Do they want to problem-solvers, or do they want to continue to be part of the problem on this and other issues?"
Rubio, a member of the Gang of Eight, warned Sunday that news of a final deal is "premature." Still, other top negotiators sounded a more optimistic note, with Graham saying the Senate group has reached a deal "conceptually" and could unveil legislation as early as next week.