By Russell Berman - 06/27/13 04:30 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday the House will not pass any immigration reform legislation — including a bill reported out of conference — that does not have the support of a majority of Republican and Democratic members.
“For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members,” Boehner said at his weekly Capitol press conference.
Many House Republicans are strongly opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants that Democrats consider essential.
Boehner reiterated that the House would not simply take up and vote on the Senate bill.
The Speaker later emphasized that immigration reform would need a majority of both Democrats and Republicans.
A series of individual bills moving through the Judiciary Committee have not gained Democratic support, and Boehner offered encouragement to a bipartisan group of negotiators that appear to have stalled again on legislation that has been in the works for years.
“I think the bipartisan group in the House, the Gang of Seven now, they’ve done very good work,” Boehner said. “Now they’re hung up on a couple of issues, and I think they’ve acknowledged that.
“But I would encourage them to continue their work,” he continued, “because as we look for a path forward, we’re going to need the ideas from both parties.”
The Speaker has spoken positively of the bipartisan group for months, and his comments Thursday suggest that despite its struggles, he is holding out hope it can produce legislation that would obviate the need for a partisan immigration push.
The seven members of the group have been reviewing final legislative language for weeks, and while Democratic negotiators say they have signed off on the bill, the three remaining Republicans have not.
“We’re still meeting, and we’re trying to finalize,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic caucus. “The Republican colleagues that we’re working with, I firmly believe that they want to get something done.”
Asked what the most recent holdup has been, Becerra replied: “You need to ask the Republicans that one.”
A Republican negotiator, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), said members of both parties have raised issues with parts of the bill as the group has reviewed the legislative draft. He characterized the issues as minor, however, and not anything that would derail the agreement the members had reached.
“There will be a bill,” he vowed Thursday. “I don’t know when.”
One major logistical problem for the group has been scheduling meetings in recent weeks, both on the staff and member level, a Republican source said. Democratic staffers have taken the lead in drafting the proposal, but they and two of the Democratic members, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), have been held up by lengthy Judiciary Committee hearings and floor debates throughout the month.
Becerra voiced dismay at Boehner’s requirement of majorities of both parties, saying the House needs just 218 votes to pass a bill, regardless of which party provides them.
“If we were to believe the Speaker that only a bill that has a majority of Republicans in the House will get a hearing in the House of Representatives, then we will essentially tear up the Constitution, which has no requirement whatsoever that a majority of the majority do this,” Becerra said.
“And I see nowhere in the House rules where in order to pass a bill in the House of Representatives, we must wait until a majority of the recalcitrant majority is will to do this.”
“I think the Speaker would like to get things done. I firmly believe that,” he added. “I believe right now the Speaker is dealing with a very difficult cadre of Republicans who are making it very difficult not for the Speaker but for the American people to get things done.”
The Judiciary Committee is expected to pass its fourth immigration bill on Thursday, but leading Democratic immigration reform advocates are holding a press conference to denounce the proposals the panel has advanced.
With some staunch conservatives opposed to any immigration legislation passing the House, it remains unclear whether Republican leaders can push through proposals without significant Democratic help.
The House Republican Conference will hold a special meeting on July 10 to discuss the way forward on immigration, and while Boehner has indicated he wants the House to act before the August recess, he did not give a timetable on Thursday.
He has steadfastly refused to discuss his specific policy preferences for legislation, other than to say it must contain strong border security provisions. Boehner has declined repeated questions about his stance on a path to citizenship.
“We’re talking about a very, very contentious issue and a difficult one,” he explained Thursday. “I’ve made it clear, I think we need a majority in both parties to support the passage of immigration reform, and to do that, I’ve got to facilitate a process and a discussion, a bipartisan discussion. And that’s what I have done literally since the day after the election. I’m going to continue to do that.
“You know, me taking a position one way or another somewhere is just going to slow the process down and make it more difficult,” he continued. “I’ve got a difficult enough job as it is. I don’t need to make it harder.”
Updated at 2:16 p.m.