WASHINGTON – Speaker John Boehner expressed optimism on Wednesday about House action by year’s end on stalled efforts to overhaul immigration as Republicans discussed possible limited steps to deal with the contentious issue.
Boehner publicly and privately raised the possibility of a House vote although he faces strong opposition from tea partiers even more resistant to giving President Barack Obama a domestic achievement after the recent rancorous fight over the partial government shutdown.
“I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed. And I’m hopeful,” Boehner told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference when asked if the House can act in the remaining weeks.
The House has just five legislative weeks left though lawmakers indicated that could change.
Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labour unions and religious organizations including U.S. Catholic bishops and evangelicals are pressing for immigration legislation. Many of their members plan a concerted lobbying effort on Capitol Hill next week.
Democrats, meanwhile, maintained their pressure on the House GOP, demanding a vote on comprehensive legislation similar to the Senate-passed bill that that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living here illegally and tighten border security.
“Speaker Boehner, what are you waiting for?” asked Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., at a separate news conference of senior House Democrats.
The Senate passed its bill in June with bipartisan support but the measure has languished in the House.
Most House Republicans reject a comprehensive approach and many question offering citizenship to people who broke U.S. immigration laws to be in this country. The House Judiciary Committee has moved forward with individual, single-issue immigration bills.
Although House Republican leaders say they want to solve the issue, which has become a political drag for the GOP, many rank-and-file House Republicans have shown little inclination to deal with it.
There are notable exceptions. Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., and David Valadao, R-Calif., joined immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children who want to join the military at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Coffman and Valadao have been working with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., on legislation that would offer citizenship to the children. There were no signs, however, that they were close to a resolution.
Valadao said Boehner has told him that a vote was possible by the end of the year. The congressman said Cantor sets the House calendar.
“If anybody has the power to bring it to a vote it’s him,” Valadao said. “It’s his bill.”
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Darrell Issa of California also are working on possible legislation.
Diaz-Balart said his bills would help those immigrants here illegally to “get right with the law,” purposely avoiding the word legalization that he said is interpreted differently in the fierce debate over immigration.
In an interview with a handful of reporters, Diaz-Balart spelled out the difficulty in getting legislation done. He said his bill would have to have the support of a majority of Republicans and the backing of some Democrats. He also said they would have to go through the regular process of the Judiciary Committee.
Asked about the possibility of bills before year’s end, Diaz-Balart said, “Our biggest enemy is time.”
Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa, said Wednesday that the congressman “is currently working on a proposal that would offer temporary status for some qualifying aliens already present.”