House GOP cautious on Senate's bipartisan immigration blueprint

Key House Republicans are taking a cautious approach to the framework for comprehensive immigration reform that a bipartisan group of senators released Monday, refusing to endorse or condemn a development widely seen as a breakthrough.

The most critical — and potentially problematic — piece of the five-page set of principles remains its call for a “path to citizenship” for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. that is “contingent upon securing the border and combating visa overstays.”

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The new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlattePress: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself USCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids MORE (R-Va.), said in a statement that any proposal for dealing with those currently in the country illegally would raise “a lot of questions.”

“When we look at proposals that deal with the legal status of 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S., we have a lot to discuss,” Goodlatte said. “The American people and members of Congress have a lot of questions about how this would work, what it would cost and how it will prevent illegal immigration in the future. This will have a huge impact on the American people, and so we have to carefully evaluate its impact.”

Goodlatte said the committee would “explore ways to fix our broken immigration system.”

The chairman of the subcommittee in charge of immigration, Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySenate GOP set to ramp up Obama-era probes More than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets MORE (R-S.C.), also took an open mind to the draft. "The current immigration system is broken and inspires confidence in no one,” he said in a brief statement. “So, proposals which balance the humanity which defines us as a people with respect for the rule of law which defines us as a republic are welcome.”

The eight senators who signed on to the framework included four Democrats — Sens. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to pandemic Bipartisan senators ask congressional leadership to extend census deadline Lawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks MORE (N.Y.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead White House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate MORE (Ill.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line MORE (N.J.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetKamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner Expanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 MORE (Colo.) — and four Republicans, Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSarah Palin offers Harris advice: 'Don't get muzzled' McSally gaining ground on Kelly in Arizona Senate race: poll Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick Republicans set sights on FBI chief as Russia probe investigations ramp up The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement MORE (S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Lincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire China sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong MORE (Fla.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (Ariz.).

The decision of Rubio, a rising conservative star, to join the effort could be crucial in attracting conservative support, and a spokesman for Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Bottom line Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future MORE (R-Ohio) specifically cited his involvement in a short response to the release of the blueprint.

“The Speaker welcomes the work of leaders like Sen. Rubio on this issue, and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal in the coming days,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Bottom line Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future MORE spokesman Michael Steel said.

The House has long been seen as the more challenging chamber for immigration reform because of the opposition of conservative Republicans to any proposal that smacks of “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.

Given that history, the muted response from conservatives in the House is notable. In a question-and-answer session with the Ripon Society last week, Boehner said that a bipartisan group in the House “basically [has] an agreement” on immigration reform. That group, he said, included both “hard heads” in his own party and Democrats who have long pushed for comprehensive reform.

A House conservative who has taken a leading role in the lower chamber’s discussions on immigration, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), said the ideas released Monday were “good principles” that were similar to those that members of both parties in the House were discussing.

But he said the group’s proposal for a path to citizenship stuck out as a concern and would be “tough” to accept in the House.

“I think that’s going to be one of the sticking points between the House and the Senate,” Labrador said. “We have to be careful about rewarding people for illegal activity with citizenship.”

Labrador supports giving “some sort of legal status” to undocumented immigrants but not creating a “new pathway” to citizenship beyond the avenues currently available.

Labrador said he and other conservatives are looking for signs that President Obama wants a “policy victory” on immigration and not simply a “political victory” that comes from blaming Republicans for a failure to pass legislation. He called on the president not to “draw a line” on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “So far as I can tell he hasn’t drawn that line,” Labrador said.

Labrador, who refused to vote for Boehner for Speaker earlier this month, would not comment on whether he was in the group that Boehner referenced to the Ripon Society or whether an agreement on immigration was close.

There was at least one notable exception to the restrained response from House conservatives to the Senate blueprint: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

"When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration," Smith said in a brief statement. "By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”

Mike Lillis contributed.