House Dems press GOP for immigration vote this year

Democratic leaders on Wednesday renewed their push for a House vote this year on comprehensive immigration reform, while Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered no more than a tepid commitment to the issue.

The prospects for President Obama’s top domestic priority have dimmed in recent months as budget battles have consumed Washington and House Republicans have shown little appetite for giving legal status to 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

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“I think the only group that is not saying ‘let’s get immigration reform done’ seems to be the Republican majority in the House of Representatives,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said at a press conference outside the Capitol.

With the government shutdown over, Hoyer and other Democrats called on the Republican majority to turn to immigration as a way of showing the public that Congress can function. They lobbied for a vote on legislation signed by 184 Democrats that is similar to the bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate earlier this year.

“Bring this bill to the floor. Bring an immigration reform bill to the floor. We will pass it,” Hoyer said.

House Republicans have yet to bring any immigration bill up for a vote, although committees have passed five individual bills.

Asked about immigration reform on Wednesday, Boehner reiterated his interest in the issue but did not make an explicit commitment to call up legislation.

“I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed, and I’m hopeful,” he told reporters.

Democrats have sought to breathe life into the issue and counter the conventional wisdom that immigration reform stands little change of passage because of deep divisions among Republicans. Boehner has said that any bill must earn support from a majority of Republicans to get a vote.

“Let me set the record straight: Comprehensive immigration reform is not dead in the House,” said Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “The time for excuses is over. The time for action is now.”

In the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has said Republicans are working on four additional bills on immigration, including measures that deal with the legalization of illegal immigrants. But an aide said Tuesday there is no timetable for moving on those measures.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) has also said he is working on legislation following the collapse in September of a bipartisan group that had been crafting a comprehensive immigration proposal.

But it is unclear if House leaders will bring any bills to the floor during the limited legislative window between now and the end of the year. The House is scheduled to meet for only five more weeks in 2013.

“We say to our Republican colleagues, what are you waiting for?” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said. “We are not going to allow this to become a do-nothing, shut-down-everything Congress.”

While Democrats are unified in support of legislation like the Senate proposal, they are divided on the question of whether they would support piecemeal bills in an effort to get to a formal conference committee with the Senate. Republican leaders have said they will only do immigration reform in a step-by-step way — an approach some Democrats reject.

Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) said it was “a fallacy” to think that piecemeal legislation could solve the complex problems associated with immigration law. “It leads you into a dead end,” he said.

Hinojosa added, “We in the House must do something comprehensive.”

Earlier in the day, another leading immigration reform advocate, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), took to the House floor to push for bipartisan action on immigration.

“The truth is that even during the shutdown, many on your side of the aisle have been drafting proposals and there are many of us on this side willing to work with you if you are serious,”Gutiérrez said. “The question is whether work on a bipartisan basis will be allowed to flourish. I want to spend the rest of this Congress working with whoever wants to join — in either party — to get immigration reform done.”