Immigration reform: Congressional negotiators close to deal

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 2:35pm

A day after the Republican National Committee released a post-election report calling for comprehensive immigration reform, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that the bipartisan House group working on legislation is "essentially in agreement" on a plan to address the politically controversial issue.

Boehner emphasized he's intent on getting something done in the House, telling reporters, "I made clear the day after the election that dealing with immigration reform was a top priority and it is."

The optimism among leaders in the House is bipartisan.

The number two House Democrat also signaled the bipartisan talks are close to a deal that would include a pathway to citizenship, saying he expected an agreement to be reached "in the near term."

"They are very close. I think they've made real progress. I think the group of eight is a pretty broad group of people, representing a pretty broad stretch of philosophy in the House of Representatives," Rep Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday, saying the Democrats in the group have briefed leaders.

Boehner told reporters Tuesday that he and top GOP leaders met last week with the four House Republicans talking to House Democrats- Reps Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, Sam Johnson, R-Texas, John Carter, R-Texas, and Raul Labrador, R-Idaho - and said "they are essentially in agreement over how to proceed."

The four House Democrats involved in the talks are Reps Xavier Becerra, D-California, Rep Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, Rep Zoe Lofgren, D-California, and Rep John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky.

The eight members of the group have been reluctant to talk publicly about their bipartisan negotiations. Some of these members have been working on the issue on drafting an immigration bill since Congress failed to get a deal done in 2007.

These House members worry that if details leak out of the talks they could potentially blow up the discussions. But some have also expressed optimism and indicated that they believe they are farther along in drafting legislation detailing their proposal than a Senate group which released its framework in late January.

Meanwhile, that group of eight bipartisan senators is also getting closer to an agreement on an immigration bill. Sources close to the process tell CNN they hope to make an announcement in April, when the Senate returns from a two week spring break.

GOP sources in both the House and Senate tell CNN the fact that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a tea party favorite, is calling for immigration reform will help their efforts in assuaging conservative concerns.

Hoyer pointed to the RNC report as proof the GOP is repositioning itself on immigration.

"I think the Republican Chairman and the Speaker I think recognizes that a very large growing majority of the electorate believes that comprehensive immigration reform is good for the country," Hoyer said. "As a result I think that Republicans feel they need to be for such legislation."

Boehner indicated in late January the House group was making progress, but on Tuesday he also revealed that House Republican leaders are stepping up efforts to educate rank and file Republicans about immigration - or, as a House GOP leadership aide admitted, trying to lay the ground work with conservatives to keep them from blowing up any bipartisan bill GOP leaders admit they need as a first step towards luring Hispanic voters back to the GOP.

Both the House GOP conference and the House GOP policy committee have held 'listening sessions" and leaders are putting together an "education plan" to brief members on the myriad of issues that could be part of a major overhaul of the current immigration system.

While he hailed the progress of the House group, Boehner did caution that there's still a lot of groundwork to do within the GOP conference before moving a major immigration bill in the House.

"This is just the beginning of the process - a lot of education needs to be done because more than half of our members have never dealt with issue of immigration reform - both on the legal side and the illegal side," the Speaker said.

Pressed on his take on the proposal to provide a pathway to citizenship, Boehner didn't directly answer the question, saying "there's a lot of issues in here that have to be dealt with, but I think what this bipartisan group came up with is frankly a pretty responsible solution."

Boehner said he did not have a timetable for the immigration bill in the House.

Hoyer pointed to the bipartisan efforts in the Senate and said, "I am very optimistic that we will get to passing a bill in the Senate and the House that the president can sign --on comprehensive immigration and a pathway towards citizenship, which I think has got to be part of any comprehensive immigration reform." 

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