POLITICS
11/19/2013 07:31 am ET Updated Nov 19, 2013

House Republicans' Many Excuses For Inaction On Immigration Reform

About a year after Republicans lost badly with Latino voters in the presidential election and began to promise quick action on immigration reform, a Senate-passed bill has languished in the House, no bills have been put forward to deal with major issues such as the limbo of the U.S. undocumented population and the year is drawing to a close without any expectation of a single immigration-related vote. Although the Senate's comprehensive reform bill passed in June in a 68-32 vote -- picking up 14 Republicans -- the House GOP has ruled out a vote. They have no plans to allow for negotiations on that bill, and their strategy for a step-by-step approach to immigration reform likely will be pushed to 2014, when they will turn attention to reelection campaigns and work even harder to avoid tough votes.

Why the long wait? Well, there are lots of reasons, according to House Republicans. Here are a few, ranging from a lack of trust to, you guessed it, Obamacare.

1. Obamacare.

After the House passed another bill last week aimed at limiting Obamacare, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was challenged on the floor by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who asked when exactly the GOP planned to take up immigration. While he listed a few reasons, Cantor came back to Obamacare repeatedly. For one, he said the Senate immigration legislation was too long and too partisan, and could lead a "trainwreck" like Obamacare did.

"The news of this week, unfortunately, has been many, many Americans very unhappy with the work product coming out of this town as far as health care is concerned," Cantor said. "I would posit to the gentleman that a bill like Obamacare or a bill like the Senate immigration bill produces the kinds of impact and effect that we're seeing this week and last week and the prior. We don't want to commit that same mistake."

He went on to say Obamacare was yet another example of how the president and Senate can't compromise.

"The track record of this administration and the majority in the Senate has indicated an unwillingness to sit down and talk," he said. "They’ve not done so, certainly the White House has not done so on the immigration issue, did not do so on the health care issue, and again it doesn’t help the American people for their insistence on a 'my way or the highway' kind of mode of operation."

2. The president can't be trusted.

There are many examples of this argument, but they largely break down into broader governing problems -- see some of the following reasons -- and immigration-specific ones. On the latter point, a large part of any immigration reform enacted would fall to the Obama administration to implement. Republicans are skeptical of Obama's commitment to enforcing immigration law and protecting the border -- despite record deportation numbers and high border patrol spending -- and argue they can't be sure he'd actually follow the law.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) articulated that point in July, when he said Obama has refused to police the border.

"It's like having a teenager that wants the keys to the car after he's already wrecked the other one," King told reporters. "Maybe handing him a new credit card and saying, 'Yeah, I know you promised you'll mow the lawn and carry out the garbage, here are the keys to the car.' You have to do it the other way. Say, 'Mow the lawn, do your chores, and then come back and talk to me and we'll discuss whether you get the keys to the car.'"

3. The government shutdown showed the Senate can't negotiate.

House Republicans were quick in pointing to the recent fight over government spending as proof that the president and Democratic-controlled Senate had no interest in working with them. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), once a proponent of immigration reform, said in October that the debate had shown Democrats couldn't negotiate in good faith.

"Every single time we were closer to something that actually we could both agree on, the president and his party continued to push back," Labrador said. "It's just the way this guy negotiates. The president and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid will only negotiate in a take-no-prisoners type of attitude, and I just don't think it's healthy for the American people and it's definitely not healthy for immigration reform."

4. Actually, the government shutdown showed that nobody can negotiate.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) implied in October that Congress' failure to manage the basic job of keeping the government open showed immigration reform would be too tough to tackle soon. According to the Hill, Cole told reporters that the House was unlikely to take up immigration reform until after budget and debt ceiling issues are resolved, potentially not until next year.

"I don’t even think we’ll get to that point until we get these other problems solved," Cole said.

He said it was unrealistic to expect the House to be able to tackle what he called the "divisive and difficult issue" of immigration when it can barely handle the most basic task of keeping the government's lights on.

"We're not sure we can chew gum, let alone walk and chew gum, so let’s just chew gum for a while," Cole said.

5. If the House did negotiate on immigration, it could go badly.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said shortly after the Senate passed its sweeping immigration reform bill that he had no intention of bringing it to the floor. But if the House passed its own legislation, it could be combined with the Senate's in a conference committee -- a result that advocates hoped for and opponents feared would lead to them being rolled.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, said he opposed going to conference because he viewed it as a strategy by reform bill supporters to pressure Boehner to cave in the end.

“We should not go to a conference on the Gang of Eight bill for two reasons,” DeSantis said in a phone interview with Breitbart News. “One, I don’t think, if you look at the way the Gang of Eight bill is structured, I think the flaws are so endemic to the bill that even if you had an honest compromise, I don’t think whatever came out of that compromise would represent conservative principles at all. It’s a big gulf between where conservatives are, where millions of Americans are, and what was done in that Gang of Eight bill."

"Number two, Reid and Schumer have already said they don’t care what the House does, just get to a conference and they’re just going to ram through the Gang of Eight bill," he explained. "That will basically put more pressure on the Speaker to basically put it on the floor. You’re looking at going into a conference that doesn’t give you any chance of having conservative policy enacted in the end. So why would we want to step into that minefield?”

Boehner said last week that the leadership has "no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill."

6. Previously: Dealing with the conflict in Syria would take up too much time.

In early September, it appeared likely that there would be significant time devoted to deciding how the United States should respond to violence in Syria. That decision didn't end up requiring congressional action, but at the time, Labrador voiced concern that the conflict and other pressing issues would push back immigration reform and make it unlikely for this year.

"A lot of us thought that the debate was going to be in October, but now, with the problems that we’re having internationally and also here in this country, I don’t see how we’re going to be able to have this debate until -- until November," Labrador told Univision. "And I really don’t know if it will be possible to do it in November."

7. Now: There's no time left this year to do it right.

GOP leadership has said they will take a deliberate, piece-by-piece approach to immigration reform, and that doing so means it will take more time. Boehner insisted during a press conference that they weren't moving slowly to put more attention on Obamacare -- they just want to do it right.

"This is about trying to do this in a way that the American people and our members can absorb," Boehner said. "There are hundreds of issues involved in dealing with immigration reform. And we've got to deal with these in a common-sense way, where our members understand what we're doing and their constituents understand."

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