House GOP meetings could make or break immigration reform

(CBS News) The fight over immigration reform hangs in the balance Wednesday. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill a week and a half ago. But, in the House, the GOP is divided over a key element of that plan. Republicans are meeting behind closed doors on Wednesday to work on a deal on reform.

The meetings could make or break immigration reform because it will help determine whether Republicans can find consensus on the very contentious but very crucial matter of what to do about the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

On immigration reform, lawmakers racing to beat the 2014 clock

Twelve days after the Senate passed its sweeping reform bill, the leader of the House made it clear he's going to take a different approach: Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, "We all believe that if we are going to go forward on immigration reform, the first big step is you have to have a serious border security."

Border security is an issue that unites House Republicans. But the party is torn over what to do about the illegal immigrants who are already in the U.S. The Senate bill would give them temporary legal status if they pay fines and pass background checks and allow them to seek citizenship after a decade or more.

But for some House Republicans, such as Iowa Rep. Steve King, that's an unacceptable reward for breaking the law.

CBS News' Nancy Cordes asked King if there's any kind of legalization process he could support. He replied, "We have no moral obligation to do that. They came here to live in the shadows. They had to expect they were going to live in the shadows."

Asked how many House Republicans he thinks share his position, King said, "We're going to find out if it's a majority. I think it is."

Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart says it's not. He told CBS News, "We have a small group that frankly just doesn't really want to solve the issue."

Diaz-Balart is part of a bipartisan group of seven House members who have been trying to hammer out a compromise for years. He said he believes most of his fellow Republicans could embrace some kind of conditional legal status for undocumented workers. "It is clear that we have a system that's broken," he said. "In Washington, we're supposed to come up here to fix problems that are broken. Does anybody doubt that our immigration system is broken from A to Z?"

House Democrats are keeping up the pressure, saying they're not going to vote for anything less than a pathway to citizenship. The White House is also keeping up the pressure, as well, releasing a new report on Wednesday that shows all of the economic benefits passing the Senate plan.

On "CBS This Morning," Rich Lowry, among the conservatives who have a problem with the reform plan, said there are divisions on this issue in the party "no doubt about it" in the House and the Senate.

"The immigration bill is a huge mistake, though, and the House is right to kill it, and I would expect it to kill it," he said.

Lowry is the editor of The National Review. He co-authored a piece titled "Kill The Bill" in The Weekly Standard about the immigration reform bill.

The Congressional Budget Office report says there are economic benefits to passing the bill and will cut the immigration problem reportedly by half, CBS News' Anthony Mason pointed out. Lowry, asked for his response, said, "They say by a third or a half, and that's assuming it's actually all going to be implemented, which I think is a very dubious assumption. We've gone through this story in 1986, we passed a similar bill - amnesty with promised enforcement in the future. The enforcement never actually happened. And if you take CBO's word by a third or half, you can still get six, seven, eight million more illegal immigrants here in 10 years. So we would be looking at the same problem we're facing now.

Watch Lowry's full interview in the video below.

"In terms of the economic benefit, there are small economic benefits, but it does have a redistributive effect on wages," Lowry said. "It hurts people lower down on the income scale and helps people higher up. Is that really a sound policy?"

Lowry said the bill is just not perfect - it's "deeply flawed." He added, "Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) says we shouldn't have to do this if we're going to come back and face the same problem, and I think we are."

Instead of this bill, Lowry suggests the House pass "incremental enforcement measures that they think make sense." He said, "Enforcement is very popular with the public across the board, among all groups."

On the political ramifications of inaction on this bill, Lowry said, "The idea that you have to pass this particular bill at this particular moment or you're never going to win any Latino voters again, I think, is just silly. After the 2014 elections, Republicans, they may control the Senate. Then you can work this thing from the opposite end, you can pass it all with Republican votes and pick off some Democrats, sort of the opposite strategy Chuck Schumer has had here, and then dare President Obama to veto it."

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