The Plan to Sell House Republicans on Immigration Reform

Backroom pressure, ad money could sway conservatives, advocates say.

ByABC News
July 1, 2013, 2:09 PM

July 2, 2013— -- Immigration reform cleared the Senate last week with a convincing amount of support from Republicans. Years of organizing and activism helped make that happen.

But passing a bill through the House is a much bigger challenge. It's controlled by Republicans who can be downright antagonistic toward what is arguably the centerpiece of the legislation: a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Here's how some activists and lobbyists plan to crack the House:

1. Find the influencers

Pro-immigration reform groups are just beginning to identify which House Republicans are seen as "gettable," according to several GOP operatives who work with those outside political organizations.

That could be tough, considering that few House Republicans have much incentive to support legislation that contains a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Only 24 out of 234 House Republicans represent districts that have a Hispanic voter share that's greater than 25 percent.

But pro-reform advocates believe they can woo individual House GOPers in other ways. Advocates will encourage House members who can set the tone for others on immigration to speak out. Reform-backers believe Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is key to that effort. The party's vice presidential nominee in 2012 has voiced support for overhauling the nation's immigration laws and commands respect among all House Republican factions.

"I think that somebody like Paul Ryan is in a really unique place to bring together Republicans and Democrats around a solution," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "He gets it from a policy perspective and he gets it from a personal perspective, and he has credibility like nobody else in the House."

That playbook also includes highlighting the economic benefits of a path to citizenship and new worker visa programs. Those aspects could appeal to skeptical House Republicans.

Pro-reform groups are also looking to get the support of stakeholders in certain Republican districts. Everyone from business leaders to political donors could help give GOP politicians cover if they choose to support reform.

Joshua Culling, the immigration point man at Grover Norquist's conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, said there's room for the pro-reform coalition to grow in the House. But that will take a hard sell and political cover to protect Republican "Yes" votes from a potential backlash from some conservative groups and voters.

"We've heard from members that 'we want to support this, but we want to feel more comfortable,'" he said in an interview.

2. Give them support

Behind-the-scenes lobbying will play a big role in swaying House Republicans on immigration, but public campaigns matter, too.

Already, pro-immigration reform groups have outspent their opponents by nearly a three-to-one margin in radio and TV ads between April and June, according to numbers compiled by National Journal. Ad money from the pro-side has helped senators like Lindsey Graham, who faces re-election next year and has been hit by anti-immigration activists' ads in his home state of South Carolina.

But reform backers believe there's even more money out there from Republican donors that can be used to run ads to provide political cover for GOP lawmakers who vote yes.