Hoyer: Outside GOP pressure will likely force Boehner to move immigration bill

Republican pressure from outside the Capitol will make it difficult for House GOP leaders to block comprehensive immigration reform this year, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.

Conservative House Republicans are lining up in opposition to sweeping proposals in both chambers that include a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, forcing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday to promise not to consider any immigration bills that lack the support of most of his conference.

But Hoyer, the Democratic whip, predicted that Republican heavyweights outside the Beltway — particularly those with their eyes on the White House — will pressure Boehner and other GOP leaders to swallow comprehensive reforms to improve the party's standing with Hispanic voters, even if it means violating the so-called Hastert Rule.

"The presidential wing of the Republican Party is absolutely convinced that they need to be for an immigration bill," Hoyer said Tuesday during a press briefing in the Capitol. "They lost 70 percent of the Hispanics in the last presidential election. I think their feeling is, if they don't forge some bridge with the Hispanic community in America, they're going to be in real trouble on the presidential level.

"That same motivation does not apply in the congressional wing [of the GOP] because the districts are smaller," Hoyer added. "But I think there will be a lot of pressure from Republicans on the Republican House."

Boehner on Tuesday answered one of the biggest questions surrounding this year's immigration debate when he vowed not to stage votes on any immigration reform bills without the backing of most of his Republican troops.

Many House conservatives consider it "amnesty" to offer eventual citizenship to those living in the country illegally, as both the Senate package and a bill being drafted by House negotiators would do.

The conservatives also fear that, politically, the citizenship provision would overwhelmingly benefit the Democrats at the polls.

"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," Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told World Net Daily, a conservative website, last week. "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.”

Instead, House conservatives like Bachmann want any reforms to focus on securing the Southern border and strengthening deportation efforts in the country's interior — a law-enforcement emphasis that's angered many Hispanic groups.

Fearing that Republicans risk alienating Hispanic voters indefinitely, a number of national GOP leaders — including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Michael Steele, former head of the Republican National Committee — have all endorsed the notion that immigration reform should include a pathway to citizenship.

A number of Senate Republicans are also at odds with House conservatives on that topic, as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) all helped to draft the upper-chamber package that features the citizenship provision.

Hoyer on Tuesday said a broad show of bipartisan support for the Senate bill would only add to the pressure on Boehner and GOP leaders to bring the issue to the floor.

"If the Senate passes a bipartisan bill, I think the Republican leadership's going to be under great pressure to let the House work its will," Hoyer said.

"They say that a lot. They either mean it or they don't mean it. They're either hypocrites or not," he added. "They either ought to stop saying they want the House to work its will or ... they ought to walk the walk."