Bipartisan House group insists its bill can play role in immigration debate

Lawmakers negotiating a long-delayed bipartisan immigration bill in the House say it’s not too late for their proposal to become the basis for the lower chamber’s response to the Senate immigration overhaul that passed Thursday.

“There is time for this product to be part of the process,” a Democratic negotiator, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), said Friday morning. She added she was “cautiously optimistic” about immigration reform’s prospects for success in the House.

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The push to re-write the nation’s immigration laws faces a much narrower path in the House amid opposition from conservatives and a vow from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that any legislation must win the support of a majority of Republicans.

With the Speaker’s encouragement, the group of seven House members has worked for years to draft a bipartisan proposal, but they have struggled to finish the bill in recent months. Negotiators are now giving a final review to the 500-page draft, Lofgren said, but they are not saying when they expect to release it. 

The group met again on Friday but left for the weeklong July 4 recess without finishing the bill. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said members and staff would continue to go through the legislation during the recess with the hope of releasing it “sooner than later.”

Members and staff have been frustrated by trouble scheduling meetings to complete the legislation, with frequent interruptions caused by House recesses and a busy schedule in the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s a tedious process, but it’s a necessary process,” Lofgren said of the effort to put the finishing touches on the bill. She spoke at a panel event held by Bloomberg Government.

House leaders have acknowledged they hoped the bill would have come out already, and the Judiciary Committee has moved ahead with its own series of individual immigration bills that were approved along party lines. Lofgren, a senior Democrat on the panel, called some of the proposal “bizarre” and “absurd.”

Boehner said Thursday he wants an immigration bill to win majorities from both parties and urged the bipartisan group to keep working. The House GOP will meet on July 10 to discuss the path forward on the issue, and leaders are expected to decide after that session how quickly to move legislation to the floor.

“I think the Speaker wants to solve this issue, and hopefully we will have a viable option,” a Republican member of the bipartisan group, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), said Friday at the same event.

House Republicans are broadly opposed to the Senate bill, and Diaz-Balart said he believes the House group’s proposal will be the “only” option that can win bipartisan support in both chambers.

Both he and Lofgren praised the Senate for passing its bill, however. “If anything now we’re more encouraged than ever, realizing that in the House we’re going to have some serious challenges,” Diaz-Balart said. “It’s a more complicated place.”