WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who was the first GOP House member to sign on to a Democrat-led comprehensive immigration reform bill, said Thursday that the effort shouldn't be declared dead yet.
In fact, he said, three additional members from both parties will announce their support for that bill in the next couple of days, with more to come next week. At the same time, he and five other Republicans are talking to fellow GOP members to get 40 to 45 more to sign a letter supporting immigration reform in general.
House Republican leadership has said the Democrat-led bill, H.R. 15, won't go for a vote. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ruled out a vote on Senate-passed reform legislation months ago, and reaffirmed on Wednesday that he will not allow that bill to be combined with House legislation. Although Boehner said he still wants to pursue immigration reform, he indicated it's unlikely there will be any votes by the end of the year.
Denham said during an event Thursday for think tank NDN -- which supports immigration reform -- that he blames both sides for the past failure of comprehensive immigration reform. But he had harsh words for GOP members who criticized other plans without suggesting their own.
"You're elected to be a leader. Then lead," he said of fellow members of Congress. "Show us what you're for, show us what you don't like, but we've got to come to a resolution that makes sense for the entire country, and we need to have a debate in front of the American public."
He told reporters after the event that he is hoping he can convince Boehner to hold a vote on either the Democrats' immigration bill, or other legislation that is at a standstill or yet to be released. He declined to say which members will soon announce their support for the comprehensive bill, but said they come from both parties.
Denham said the letter is meant to show Boehner that many GOP members want to pursue the issue comprehensively, even through separate bills.
"The letter is to show the speaker how much support there is in our conference," he said. "We're kind of going at this with a two-pronged approach. If you can't support H.R. 15, then sign on to the letter. But ultimately, we want to show that there's so much support in our conference that we get this to the floor."
House Democrats introduced their legislation in early October, and now have support from most of their caucus and three GOP members: Denham, and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and David Valadao (R-Calif.). The bill isn't yet at 218 cosponsors, which would be a House majority, but members said they think more people would give their support if it went to the floor for a vote.
"I want to work with anyone and everyone to make this possible, and I do not accept that Speaker Boehner or the majority leadership says we're out of time," Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said during the NDN event. "H.R. 15 could be brought to the floor and passed in 15 minutes. H.R. 15 will only take 15 minutes to get through the process if the leadership decides it, because the support is there in a bipartisan way."
Denham said he expects more bills from House Republicans, specifically referencing one from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and the KIDS Act from Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
"If you have ideas, put them on paper," he said. "Let's get coauthors, let's get the American people involved, but we can't afford to waste any more time."