Dim prospects for comprehensive immigration bill in House

Two weeks after the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with bipartisan support, the House Republican Conference on Wednesday confirmed their decision to take a different path and tackle immigration reform with multiple, piecemeal bills. Those standalone bills, however, may not even get to the House floor until September.

The slow pace of immigration reform in the House underscores the challenges facing House Republicans: In addition to considering the different priorities of their members, they must balance their short-term political interest in pleasing a conservative base with their long-term interest in fostering a political relationship with Latino voters.

For now, House Republicans are, at the very least, making clear that they will not accept the Senate bill. Following an hours-long meeting with their entire caucus, House GOP leaders released a statement calling the Senate bill "flawed" and "rushed," even though the "gang of eight" bipartisan senators worked for months on the effort. They likened a comprehensive immigration bill to the Affordable Care Act -- the lowest blow possible, from the perspective of a conservative.

"The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy," the statement said. "But they don't trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they're alarmed by the president's ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem."

Referencing the fact that the Obama administration has delayed parts of the health care law, Republican leaders said the administration "cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate."

The statement made no mention of creating a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants -- a sticking point for both President Obama and congressional Democrats.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said after Wednesday's meeting that his border security legislation would likely be the first bill to hit the House floor -- probably in September.

House Republicans, McCaul said, would be more likely to compromise on a pathway to citizenship (or at least legal status) once they felt assured that border security would be a priority and a prerequisite. He said he thought "the meeting could not have gone better" and that he believes, based on the closed-door meeting, that most House Republicans truly do want to tackle immigration reform.

McCaul and other members coming out of the meeting all acknowledged that House Republicans remain deeply divided over a path to citizenship or legal status. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a staunch opponent to the idea, said the party seemed to be split "50/50."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Congress must strengthen the borders. While doing that, she said, "I hope that we can also look at the 11 million who want to legalize their status and contribute in a great way to this country."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said "some people will clearly stay." He added, however, that the House GOP is also considering "those who should not remain and those who would fall within guest workers or other programs."

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