Boehner facing Dem pressure as immigration fight moves to House

Washington Democrats are planning a full-court press on John Boehner (R-Ohio) now that immigration reform is squarely in the Speaker's court.

The Senate's passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill Thursday has sent the package to the House and left Boehner facing tough choices about his next steps in the face of a sharply divided GOP conference – steps he has yet to announce.

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It's by no means clear that an immigration bill will reach President Obama's desk, but Democrats hope they can build pressure on Boehner over the summer and fall. 

"Mr. Boehner, you are on the clock," Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said following the Senate vote.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is endorsing a million-person march on Washington to pressure Boehner to act. The Hispanic, Black and Asian Pacific American caucuses are whipping hard against smaller reforms moving through the House Judiciary Committee, heralding Republican-only votes that would lend the bills little leverage. And Obama is using his bully pulpit to call on House Republicans to act swiftly.

"Today, the Senate did its job," Obama said Thursday. "It’s now up to the House to do the same."

Boehner on Thursday declared that he won't consider any immigration legislation — including a conference report — unless it has support from a majority of his troops. He also doubled down on previous vows not to consider the Senate-passed bill on the House floor.

"We're going to do our own bill through regular order, and it'll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people," Boehner said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

Democrats acknowledge that the momentum generated by passage of the Senate bill is, by itself, not enough to push comprehensive reform through the lower chamber. But the lawmakers say they're confident that intensifying pressure – from both within the Capitol and without – will force Boehner's hand. 

"The coalition for comprehensive immigration reform? I don't think the House of Representatives quite understands how broad and deep it is, because it's been perpetually stationed in the Senate for the last four months," Gutierrez said shortly before the Senate vote. "Well, they're closing down camp there in about an hour and setting up camp here.

"That might very well be the next Hastert rule," he added.

While many of Boehner's rank-and-file members are flat-out opposed to any immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants, national party leaders have called for action, believing it could could improve the party's standing with Hispanic voters after a dismal showing in the last two presidential cycles.

Schumer said passage of the Senate bill – a lopsided 68-32 vote that included support from 14 Republicans – "set the tone so Republicans go to Boehner and say, 'Look, I don't want to vote for this, but get it off our back.' "

In an early sign that Democrats will have some help from across the aisle, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said after Thursday's vote that he would begin calling members of the House Judiciary panel immediately.

"There is going to be a lot of pressure to take something up," Flake said of House leaders. "Let them do their own thing. … We can conference with just about anything.

"It's their turn," Flake added.

Opponents of the Senate bill were quick to push back, hoping to stem the momentum the reform movement gained when the Senate passed its proposal.

"Bill supporters fell well short of a vote total in the 70s which they promised," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) tweeted after the vote, "so this has no momentum at all in the House."

It remains unclear how GOP leaders plan to proceed. Boehner said Thursday that Republicans are hoping to use next week's July 4 recess to take the temperature of their constituents, and the entire conference will meet July 10 to discuss the next step.

"I don't want to make any predictions on what the outcome of that conversation is going to be," Boehner said, "but we're going to have a conversation and determine a pathway forward."

As one option, the Republicans could stage floor votes on the four GOP bills passed out of the Judiciary Committee and then try to conference them with the Senate. Yet those proposals would receive scant Democratic support – Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) predicted Thursday they might attract "three or four" Democratic backers – and with some staunch conservatives threatening to oppose any reforms at all, their fate remains uncertain.

Indeed, some Democrats are already warning that the partisan approach will fail.

"No matter what my Republican friends do in the Judiciary Committee, it is not comprehensive immigration reform, nor will it be a complete reflection [of the House] and something you can go to conference on," Gutierrez said.

The wild card remains a comprehensive draft bill being floated among a bipartisan group of seven House lawmakers. Although the negotiators have struggled to finalize their proposal, the members of the group and House leaders on both sides of the aisle are holding out hope that a deal will emerge that can pass the lower chamber.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday endorsed the package as "a compromise … we can all support." And Boehner continued to prod the group to work for a deal, suggesting it would stand the best chance of passing and getting the issue behind him.

"I would encourage them to continue their work, because as we look for a path forward, we’re going to need the ideas from both parties,” he said.

Still, with many House Republicans ardently opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants – a key point of the Senate bill upon which Democrats are insisting –  Boehner's options are limited if he hopes to move something that can pass both chambers.

In the eyes of Democrats, he won't be able to pull it off without dropping his insistence on the Hastert rule.

"Republicans are not going to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It's going to be Democrats and 30 or 40 Republicans," Grijalva said. "That's the combination, and that's the combination that needs to be allowed to vote. The whole mantra from us from now on is, 'Give us a vote.'"

Whether the pressure campaign works remains to be seen.

Erik Wasson contributed reporting.

This story was updated at 9:27 a.m.