By Russell Berman and Mike Lillis - 05/23/13 08:45 PM EDT
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE (R-Ohio) and his top lieutenants vowed on Thursday that the House would produce its own immigration bill and would not simply “take up and pass” the legislation advancing in the Senate.
"The House remains committed to fixing our broken immigration system, but we will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes," BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE said in a statement that was joined by the senior top Republican leadership and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteLobbying world Overnight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push Overnight Finance: Anxiety grows over Brexit vote | Investors prefer Trump to Clinton in poll | Key chairman open to censuring IRS chief MORE (R-Va.).
“The House remains committed to fixing our broken immigration system, but we will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes," the statement said. "Rather, through regular order, the House will work its will and produce its own legislation."
The statement served as a warning to Senate Democrats and immigration reform advocates who have suggested that they could use political pressure to force the Republican-led House to accept, without changes, the Gang of Eight bill that is headed to the Senate floor in June. A bipartisan House group has struggled to complete its own immigration proposal, and members have already acknowledged it will be more conservative than the Senate bill.
Boehner’s declaration increases the likelihood that a final immigration package will be hammered out in a House-Senate conference committee later this year, if both chambers succeed in passing their own versions.
Earlier on Thursday, Boehner said in a news conference that his chamber would not be “stampeded” by the White House or the Senate on immigration.
“The House is going to work its will on immigration,” Boehner said two days after a Senate panel approved bipartisan immigration legislation.
“We’re not going to be stampeded by the White House or stampeded by the president,” he said. “The Senate is working its will. A lot of good work that’s gone on over there. But the House is going to work its will.”
“Don’t ask me how, because if I knew, I’d certainly tell you,” he then added with a chuckle.
The leadership statement was released just as a meeting of the House negotiators was ending. Members reported making progress on the last sticking point of healthcare, but they must review final legislative language before finalizing the agreement.
The group of eight House lawmakers — four Republicans and four Democrats — has been working on an immigration deal for four years, and seven of the lawmakers signed off on an agreement in principle last week. Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraVeep auditions in overdrive The Hill's 12:30 Report Hispanics on Clinton's VP shortlist could help her win votes MORE (D-Calif.) was the lone holdout, and other members of the Democratic leadership voiced concerns with the healthcare portion of the deal.
“I’m very hopeful,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) told reporters Thursday after the closed-door meeting in the Capitol.
The members of the group left to return to their districts, but they appeared to be in roughly the same place as they were a week ago, when seven of the eight negotiators signed on to what they termed an “agreement in principle” on far-reaching immigration legislation.
Labrador said the language dealing with the healthcare treatment of immigrants needed to be written and reviewed, but he said, “I think we’re all good.”
Just a day earlier, the Idaho conservative and other Republicans in the group pointed a finger at the House Democratic leadership, accusing Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and her deputies of holding up the agreement over concerns about the healthcare provision that most in the group had signed off on.
Labrador had said Thursday was a deadline for completing the deal, and he appeared satisfied that enough progress had been made to continue the process.
Asked if there was now an agreement, Labrador replied: “We need to look at the language, and if it’s what I think it is, then yes.”
Several other members declined comment as they left the meeting. Democrats had already agreed that immigrants in a provisional legal status should not receive any government subsidies for medical treatment or health insurance, but they voiced concerns that the healthcare language could lead to deportation for immigrants that needed emergency treatment but could not pay for it.
“We have continued to work on the healthcare issue, and we are still continuing to work on the healthcare issue,” Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis GutierrezIsrael’s false friends Hispanic lawmakers face painful decision on Puerto Rico Frustration with White House builds in Hispanic caucus MORE (D-Ill.) said after the meeting. “We have to work on the necessary language so that all of the parties understand the concept.”
Gutierrez continued: “We are working so that the immigrants do not become a public charge. I believe that we can reach language that will satisfy both sides of the aisle on that issue. Access to healthcare will be guaranteed. People will be able to go to the emergency room. They will not be public charge.”
Pelosi vowed earlier Thursday that taxpayers would not cover any healthcare costs for illegal immigrants in line for citizenship under immigration reform.
“It is stated very clearly in the Affordable Care Act [and] it is our position in the immigration bill: no access to subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. Secondly, no access to Medicaid; no cost to the taxpayer,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. “That has always been the Democratic position.”
Pelosi was pushing back against recent reports indicating that Democratic leaders have stalled the House immigration negotiations by resisting a draft provision that would prohibit illegal immigrants entering the “pathway to citizenship” from receiving taxpayer-subsidized healthcare benefits at any level of government.
Boehner on Thursday tried to stay out of the ongoing debate in the bipartisan group, saying there are “people on both sides of the aisle who’ve done their best to try to undermine their ability to get to an agreement.”