The House Can't Handle Immigration Reform [Analysis]

A reality check on immigration optimism

ByABC News
October 16, 2013, 11:56 AM
Supporters of immigration reform, along with several members of Congress, block First Street NW in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Supporters of immigration reform, along with several members of Congress, block First Street NW in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Oct. 16, 2013— -- President Obama says he’s ready to renew the push for immigration reform immediately after the fiscal crises plaguing Washington end.

We’re not convinced that’s a fight he can win.

Obama told Univision’s Los Angeles affiliate KMEX Tuesday that once the government is re-opened and the debt ceiling is lifted, “the day after I’m going to be pushing to say, call a vote on immigration reform.”

And immigration-reform activists are reportedly drawing up plans to marshal an immigration bill through the House of Representatives, hoping that Republicans who control the lower chamber be willing to come back to the table after a bruising fiscal battle.

But if the debt-ceiling and shutdown fights taught us anything, it’s that the House of Representatives is extremely fractured. It’s a body that seems incapable of handling a bill that requires compromise to pass.

A Divided Party

The House has struggled to build majorities around bills that can actually become law in a divided capital. Since last year, House leaders have failed to pass their “Plan B” to avert the fiscal cliff, a farm bill, and their last-ditch gambit to resolve the shutdown and debt ceiling, as NBC’s “First Read” noted.

The same goes for immigration. After the Senate passed a sweeping immigration overhaul with a bipartisan vote in June, House GOP leaders convened a “special conference” on the issue. But they emerged from the meeting with no clear plan upon which a majority of members could agree.

In the meantime, none of the small-bore immigration bills favored by Republicans have seen a vote on the floor of the House. A bipartisan Gang of lawmakers who were drafting a broad immigration overhaul broke apart last month. And a House Democratic bill that closely mirrors the Senate’s bill is going nowhere.

Four months after that special conference, an immigration bill that could pass the House looks as out of reach as ever.

Boehner’s Weakness

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has made every effort to placate rebellious Tea Party elements within the House GOP, yet he has still struggled to form majorities around major pieces of legislation.

That’s been the main reason for the holdup on immigration. The Senate’s immigration bill likely has the votes -- between Democrats and a handful of Republicans -- to pass the House. But Boehner has refused to violate the unwritten “Hastert Rule," under which legislation must have the support of the majority of the majority to come to the floor. That’s because most House Republicans likely oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Pro-immigration advocates have pointed out that Boehner has broken the Hastert Rule on at least three key votes this year. They argue that the Speaker may do it again, especially to pass a proposal that’s backed by business interests and party strategists who believe it’s necessary to start winning back Latino voters. Boehner may even violate it to end the current fiscal crisis.

But yesterday’s failure on the fiscal crisis further weakened Boehner’s hand within his conference. That makes it even less likely that he will roll them over to pass a bill that’s at the top of President Obama’s list of domestic priorities.


Supporters of immigration reform have long hoped to pass a bill by the end of next year, fearing that the process could stall in 2014, an election year.

But that looks as unlikely as ever.

The House only has 23 more planned legislative days left this year. That’s not a lot of time to pass an immigration overhaul, especially considering it took the Senate over two months to pass its immigration bill after it was introduced.

President Obama said that he would renew his immigration push ”the next day” after the fiscal crisis is over. But it’s unclear when the crisis will truly end. The Senate’s proposal to end the current standoff would reportedly fund the government until Jan. 15 and extend the country’s borrowing authority until Feb 7.

Whether it’s a broad proposal like the Senate’s or a smaller bill designed to open negotiations, it’s hard to imagine the House passing an immigration bill getting passed in that short time frame.