House Republican leaders said Wednesday they are still intent on holding an immigration debate in their chamber this year, though they said it will not be on the kind of broad, comprehensive plan the Senate passed and that President Obama has demanded.
“The committees are still working on this issue and I expect us to move forward this year in trying to address reform and what is broken about our system,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said late Wednesday as he closed down chamber business for the week.
Earlier in the day House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, sounded a similar note of hopefulness that the House would act.
The chief enemies of action are the slim number of days the House is likely to meet for the rest of this year, the competition for floor space from big issues such as the budget and health care, and the reluctance by many rank-and-file Republicans to take up any bill that would legalize illegal immigrants.
Another problem is the bad will Mr. Obama engendered with this month’s debt and spending fight, where he refused to enter into negotiations with House Republicans. Key Republican lawmakers have said that stance soured them on trusting him in negotiations over immigration.
But Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has taken the lead on the issue, said the GOP needs to get beyond that.
“Those on the other side of the aisle say they do not trust the president and can’t work with him. Well, OK, fine. Then work with us,” he said. “There are 435 of us, we need 218 to pass a bill and the president doesn’t get a vote.”
This week several Republicans revealed they are working on proposals to legalize some illegal immigrants, and Mr. Cantor is still working with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, on a bill that would legalize so-called Dreamers, the young illegal immigrants who were brought here as minors by their parents and are considered among the most sympathetic figures in the debate.
House Republicans have vowed to move several immigration bills, breaking the issue down into components such as border security, interior enforcement and revamping legal immigration. The critical question, though, is whether they also include a bill that would legalize illegal immigrants, and if so, whether it would include a full pathway to citizenship.
Even as he was finishing up the spending and debt debate, Mr. Obama said he wanted to push the House to act on immigration.
But the White House struggled Wednesday to say what concrete actions the president has taken in the week since. Press secretary Jay Carney said the administration had held conversations with leaders, but couldn’t say whether it had tried to talk with the Republicans who are beginning to float proposals.
“We’ll work with the House, we’ll work with every interested party,” Mr. Carney said.
The Senate bill, which passed 68-32, legalizes most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and gives them a specific, dedicated path to citizenship, though it would take most of them more than a decade to achieve that goal.
But four months after it passed, Senate Democrats have still not sent that bill to the House.
Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, have said they won’t accept a bill that does not include a specific path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants.
Both Mr. Obama and House Republicans are facing increasing pressure from immigrant-rights groups, including a march outside the Capitol on Wednesday, and civil disobedience actions in cities out West that have blocked deportations at some U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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