By Russell Berman - 09/20/13 07:33 PM EDT
Two House Republicans abandoned a bipartisan group crafting a comprehensive immigration reform bill, dealing a potentially fatal blow to an effort that had been more than four years in the making.
Texas Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson announced in a joint statement Friday they were leaving the group of seven, saying they could not trust President Obama to enforce an immigration bill that might pass Congress.
“We want to be clear. The problem is politics. Instead of doing what’s right for America, President Obama time and again has unilaterally disregarded the U.S. Constitution, the letter of the law and bypassed the Congress — the body most representative of the people — in order to advance his political agenda,” the two lawmakers said.
“We will not tolerate it. Laws passed by Congress are not merely suggestions, regardless of the current atmosphere in Washington. Laws are to be respected and followed by all – particularly by the commander-in-chief,” they concluded.
The departure of the two conservative Texans followed the exit of Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) in May and left just one Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), with the four Democrats: Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and John Yarmuth (Ky.).
Members of the bipartisan group had repeatedly reported being near a deal over the last several months and even announced an “agreement in principle” earlier this year. Legislation totaling more than 500 pages had been drafted and reviewed, but as momentum for immigration reform in the House stalled over the summer, the Republicans could never formally sign off.
Gutiérrez has blamed a lack of support from the GOP leadership, and Carter and Johnson made reference to the anger among Republicans at the Obama administration’s decision to unilaterally delay implementation of parts of the 2010 healthcare law.
“The administration’s practice of hand-picking what parts of laws they wish to enforce has irrevocably damaged our efforts of fixing our broken immigration system,” they said.
“If past actions are the best indicators of future behavior, we know that any measure depending on the president’s enforcement will not be faithfully executed,” Carter and Johnson said. “It would be gravely irresponsible to further empower this administration by granting them additional authority or discretion with a new immigration system.
“The bottom line is – the American people do not trust the president to enforce laws, and we don’t either.”
Carter and Johnson said they would support Republican immigration reform efforts in the House, where two committees have approved a series of individual bills that could come to the floor later this fall.
But the failure of the bipartisan group damages the prospects for broad legislation in the House that could be reconciled with the comprehensive bill the Senate passed in June.
Responding to Carter and Johnson, Gutiérrez signaled a shift in tactics among advocates for immigration reform, from engaging in bipartisan talks to holding mass demonstrations to pressure Republican leaders to act.
"It is clear the bipartisan group's work was not being embraced by Republican leaders, so this allows us to put the focus squarely on Speaker Boehner and his lieutenants to decide if they are serious about reform and if so, to do something more than talk,” Gutiérrez said in a statement.
Rallies are planned across the country on Oct. 5 and in Washington on Oct. 8 to press for immigration reform.
"We may have a divided government, but we need a unified solution,” Gutiérrez said. “I think the call on Oct. 5 and Oct. 8 will be so loud, it will be hard for House Republicans to continue stalling. The devastation of deportations, the frustration with inaction — all of it is unsustainable.”
The lone remaining Republican, Diaz-Balart, said in a statement that he shared Carter and Johnson's "frustration with President Obama" but that he would continue to pursue a bipartisan immigration overhaul.
"I’ve long said that immigration reform will not be easy, but I’m continuing to find other avenues that will ultimately lead to a solution that the American people demand," Diaz-Balart said.
In a statement, Lofgren held out hope that some of the group’s work could be incorporated into bipartisan immigration legislation that reaches the House floor.
“Solid work was put into crafting immigration measures and these efforts, or portions of them, may yet help the process as efforts continue to achieve top to bottom reform of our country’s broken immigration system,” Lofgren said.
Like other Democrats, she put the onus on the House GOP leadership to bring immigration legislation up for a vote.
“In the end, it’s the Republican leadership that must make a decision on whether they intend to allow the current broken immigration system to continue as it is, or whether they will allow the House to vote on reform,” Lofgren said. “I continue to be hopeful that Republican leaders will schedule votes on serious reform measures that aren’t host to known poison pills.”
— This story was posted at 1:19 p.m. and last updated at 3:33 p.m.