WASHINGTON – Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that the House will not hold formal, compromise talks on the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration bill, a fresh signal from the Republican leadership that the issue is dead for the year.
The slow, relatively quiet death came more than four months after the Senate, on a bipartisan vote, passed a far-reaching bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally and tighten border security.
That fanfare for that bill was quashed by strong opposition among House Republican rank and file who reject a comprehensive approach and question offering citizenship to people who broke U.S. immigration laws to be in this country. House incumbents also are wary of primary challenges from the right.
One of the clearest signs that any action was unlikely was word that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who had worked for months on the Senate bill, had abandoned the comprehensive approach. Rubio had taken political heat from conservatives after Senate passage of the immigration bill.
Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterated that the House is focused on a piecemeal approach to dealing with the issue. But he declined to say whether lawmakers will consider any legislation this year or whether the issue will slip to 2014, when the politics of congressional elections further diminish chances of action.
The No. 3 House Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, had told immigration advocates last week that the House won’t vote this year but possibly early next year.
“The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House and frankly I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” Boehner told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
He said Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is working on “a set of principles to help guide us as we deal with this issue.”
The Judiciary Committee has approved piecemeal bills, but they have languished since the summer despite intense pressure from a diverse coalition of religious groups, business led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions and immigration advocates.
Although House Republican leaders say they want to resolve the issue, which has become a political drag for the GOP, many rank-and-file Republicans have shown little inclination to deal with immigration.
The bitter standoff with President Barack Obama on the budget and near default further angered House Republicans, who have resisted any move that might give Obama an immigration overhaul, the top item on his second-term domestic agenda.
Many House Republicans are wary of passing any immigration legislation that would set up a conference with the Democratic-controlled Senate, fearing the House could lose out in final negotiations.
Opponents of comprehensive immigration legislation welcomed Boehner’s words and the latest development.
“Friends, take a moment to celebrate what I call a ‘step victory,’” Roy Beck of NumbersUSA said in a note to followers that warned that the threat was not over.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called it “an important and positive development for our nation, our people and the Republican Party. House Republicans are resisting an influence campaign and standing for the interests of the American people.”
One of the Democrats who spent months working with Republicans on the Senate bill expressed incredulity that the only House vote this year on immigration was to resume the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children.
It was a largely symbolic vote to block implementation of Obama’s 2012 election-year order to stop deportations of many so-called DREAM Act individuals.
“I believe the House will come to its senses and realize that we have to fix our immigration system in a bipartisan way,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “They cannot possibly end this Congress only having passed legislation to deport all of the Dream Act kids.”
Before Boehner’s news conference with other Republican leaders, several immigrant children approached Boehner as he sat down for breakfast at a Capitol Hill diner and described how they could lose parents to deportation. The children were in Washington as several organizations maintain their pressure on the House to act on immigration.
Carmen Lima, a 13-year-old from California, told Boehner that she feared never seeing her father again and asked Boehner if the group could count on Boehner for his vote.
“Well, I’m trying to find some way to get this thing done,” Boehner said. “It’s … not easy — not gonna be an easy path forward. But I’ve made it clear since the day after the election that it’s time to get this done.”
In a statement later in the day, the girls said they felt betrayed.
“I didn’t know what to expect from the speaker when I told him I could lose my father to deportation,” Lima said. “But I did not expect he would lie to me, and that’s what it feels like now.”
Democrats expressed frustration over the House’s lack of action at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on enforcing laws to deal with legal immigrants who overstay their visas.
“If we can vote 45 times to gut Obamacare and have another vote scheduled this week, why can the Republican leadership not find the time to schedule one vote on immigration?” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.