WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday endorsed different procedural tactics to advance two of President Barack Obama's top legislative priorities. While she all but ruled out supporting anything short of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, she opened the door to the possibility of lawmakers considering gun legislation in a piecemeal fashion.
Stuck in the minority, Pelosi lacks control over what bills come to the House floor. But her imprint will be felt on both immigration and gun legislation, if only because they will almost certainly require Democratic votes for passage. In that light, her embrace of different procedural strategies is a significant predictor of what types of congressional showdowns lay ahead.
In an interview with The Huffington Post in her office on Capitol Hill, Pelosi emphatically ruled out voting on small pieces of immigration reform legislation in hopes of building support for something larger. Any bill, she said, had to include a path to citizenship along with border security enforcement mechanisms. Even the Dream Act -- a bill to provide permanent residency to young undocumented immigrants who met certain education achievement standards or had served in the military -- would be considered insufficient, despite several failed efforts to pass it in previous Congresses.
"I don't think that's what we should settle for now, because what does that do to a Dreamer family?" Pelosi said. "If you're a Dreamer, now you're OK. Now what about your parents who brought you here? You've just outed them, right? Now what's going to happen to them? In my view, they should have a path to citizenship too."
"I think really we get ourselves into a mess if we just don't clearly say: We're going to have comprehensive immigration reform," she said. "We're going to control our borders. That's our sovereign right to do as a country. We're going to protect workers. That means, make sure that there's not exploitation of domestic workers or incoming workers. And family unification has always been really important to us. And, of course, that includes same-sex marriage families -- I don't know how we can get that done now, but it shouldn't be the reason a bill doesn't pass. And then, the path to citizenship. That's who we are as a country."
Pelosi's approach to immigration reform is, by and large, the kind preferred by most Democrats, who argue that without a comprehensive push, Republicans will help pass the border security components while leaving legislation creating a pathway to citizenship untouched. It's a strategy seemingly echoed by the bipartisan group of eight senators who have introduced an immigration framework for the upper chamber to consider.
But it stands in contrast to the approach Pelosi outlined when discussing the prospect of passing gun control policy this year.
Pointing to the four major strands of reform -- universal background checks, a federal trafficking statute, a ban on high-capacity magazines and limits on the sales of certain assault weapons -- Pelosi concluded, "I don’t know that there is any view that they would all be in the same bill."
"I think that, we did that before, you know, way back when in the  crime bill when we had the assault weapon ban," she said. "It saved lives. It lost many members their seats in Congress. And they understand that."
As a means of underscoring the political jitters over a vote on an assault weapons ban, Pelosi pointed to former House Judiciary Committee Chair Jack Brooks (D-Texas), who sponsored the 1994 bill and subsequently lost his seat after 42 years of service. She met with Brooks in October before he died. Gun reform didn't come up. But his loss, and the lessons of the 1994 battle more broadly, have clearly colored the current gun policy debates.
"I don’t know that there has ever been a plan that says, 'we are putting all these in the package together,'" said Pelosi. "I don’t know what the justification is for an assault weapon. What do you need it for, right? I do think that we could do, I think we should do, the high-capacity magazines. We should be able to do that and then use that debate to have the strongest possible background check legislation."
"It’s all a part of the same debate," she said, "but not part of the same bill."
This too appears to be the emerging consensus among Democrats. In the wake of the December mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., several lawmakers warned against pursuing reform in a piecemeal fashion, arguing that it would result in the passage of none of the gun control measures Democrats want and all of those that Republicans find worthwhile.
But the calculus has changed since then. Public opinion polls show overwhelming majorities in support of universal background checks. There is bipartisan backing for that provision already, as well as for instituting a federal trafficking law. The high-capacity magazine ban isn't inconceivable either. Increasingly, the concern among Democrats is that if they attach an assault weapons ban to the bill, they will end up with nothing at all.
One top Senate Democratic aide said the expectation is that the Judiciary Committee will produce a bill with those three components before sending it to the Senate floor. Once there, the full chamber will debate whether an assault weapons ban should be attached. The likelihood is that the ban would fail to get the needed 60 votes.
The president would not object to this strategy. An administration official said that the White House is leaving Congress the responsibility of shepherding the bill. If lawmakers choose to break up the package into individual components, the White House would support that, so long as votes are cast on each of those components.
Amanda Terkel and Ryan Grim contributed reporting.
Also on HuffPost:
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
"I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)
"If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)
Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."
Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)
State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.
Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)
Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.
Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)
Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.
Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)
In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>
Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett
"And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."