House Republicans Find Reasons Not to Endorse Senate Immigration Compromise

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 23 2013 1:06 PM

House Republicans Find Reasons Not to Endorse Senate Immigration Compromise

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The Rio Grande snakes toward the Gulf of Mexico at the U.S.-Mexico border on May 21, 2013 near Harlingen, Texas.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

"The word is actually out that many Republicans are interested in immigration reform," said South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney yesterday. "It scares many Democrats to death, including apparently Mr. Leahy. He wasn't interested in pushing his amendment and shipwrecking the immigration bill."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Mulvaney was speaking at an open meeting of House conservatives (sponsored every month by the Heritage Foundation), one day after Pat Leahy decided not to attach gay marriage reciprocity for visas to the immigration bill. Leahy's decision, and the bill's 13-5 mandate from House Judiciary, ushered in the end of a popular theory—that Democrats would prefer the immigration "issue" to an actual bill. (Ted Cruz is usually the proponent of the theory in the Senate. He voted against the bill.) The Senate's move makes final passage in that body more likely.

House Republicans, four of whom are working on their own comprehensive bill, are grappling with that. At the forum, one of the House's "gang of eight" was asked whether maybe a 70-vote win in the Senate would give their bill more monentum.

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"When did they get elected to the House?" laughed Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador.* "I missed when they were sworn into the House of Representatives. It's not going to happen, and it has nothing to do with what happens in the House of Representatives."

What did "it's not going to happen" mean, though? I asked Labrador again whether the movement in the Senate would nudge along a House bill.

"I knew it was gonna pass in the Senate, because it's a Democratic bill, mostly," he said. The question is can they get enough votes on the floor. I think you'll see Republicans, including some members of the [Senate] Gang of Eight, introduce amendments that will make the bill more palatable. If those amendments don't pass, it's going to be hard for them to pass out of the Senate."

What sort of changes would clean up the bill for House Republican consumption? They just need to accept that the American people will not be responsible for the health care cost of people who are not citizens," said Labrador. "We need to know what triggers are going to be in place before any benefits are given to the 11 million. The only way you can have reinforcement is actual triggers ... and the Senate bill makes the wages too high after a year or two. What you have then is a black market and you'll have a bunch of people hiring illegals again."

For Labrador—again, we're talking about the House Republican that Democrats think they can do business with—the Senate's compromise merely paved the road for more compromises. "We have issues with Obamacare and immigration, entitlement spending and immigration," he said. "Instead of saying I'm going to be against immigration reform because it costs money—immigration reform doesn't cost money. What costs money are the programs ... and are the Democrats going to be able to put immigration reform ahead of their labor interests, and ahead of an entitlement program for every single person in the United States? If they can't put those interests aside, they're asking Republicans to sacrifice."

What if they can't? Could a rump coalition of Democrats and a GOP minority pass a moderate bill?

"I will not vote for a bill that violates the Hastert rule," said Labrador, referring to the unofficial policy (broken three times in 2013 so far) of not passing a bill unless a majority of the majority party backs it.

*Switched some words around earlier and ID'd Labrador as being from another state.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.