And then there were none. The Gang of Seven is a bust.
It’s the end of the so-called Gang of Seven that was formed to show that House members too, like their Senate counterparts, could come together, despite partisan divides and work through the thorny, lingering issues of immigration.
The official death knell was delivered by two Texas Republican Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson who announced Friday they were out of the gang. In departure statements, they laid the blame on President Barack Obama. As they reasoned, Obama flaunted the law on guns, health care and cap and trade energy regulations, why would they trust him to uphold the law on immigration?
“The administration’s practice of hand-picking what parts of laws they wish to enforce has irrevocably damaged our efforts of fixing our broken immigration system,” Carter said in a statement.
But of course, there’s more to the break-up.
Although members of the gang had been working for about four years to find mutual ground on immigration issues, Republicans have been saying for a while that they would not pass a comprehensive immigration bill and they sure weren’t going to pass the one that came from the Gang of Eight in the Senate. (The House had been a Gang of Eight too, but Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, exited in June.)
As recently as Thursday at a GOP Hispanic Heritage month gathering, Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said the House was taking a step-by-step approach to immigration reform and not a comprehensive one. A House Judiciary aide said while Goodlatte encouraged the bipartisan Gang of Seven to keep working, he continued with the step-by-step approach.
The House Judiciary Committee has passed four bills so far dealing with enforcement, skilled immigrant worker visas, legal workers in other industries and agricultural workers. Pending are the issues of children, known as DREAMers, brought to the country illegally by their parents and other immigrants in the U.S. without legal permission.
Goodlatte endorsed an earned path to citizenship for DREAMers and laid out a possibility of legal status for other immigrants who could pursue citizenship through channels in existing law. He said the House can eventually string the bills together. But the clock is running down and there is little time left to pass the bills, get them to a conference committee with the Senate to iron out differences and get the bills finally approved and sent to the president.
That would all have to happen amid other weighty, time-consuming issues, such as reconsidering a funding bill to keep the government from shutting down at the end of the month and the lurking Syria issue. Immigration has proven over and over to be far from a quick hit issue.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who also blamed Obama for the end of the group, suggested there’s a will to get immigration done. “This great nation doesn’t just need a solution to its broken immigration system. It deserves one,” he said in a statement.
There was hope for a while. The House group had drafted about 500 pages of language and had repeatedly said it was were nearing a deal. Members even announced an “agreement in principle” earlier this year. The whole effort stalled in the summer.
“It is clear the bipartisan group’s work was not being embraced by Republican leaders,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, who has worked for years on the issue and was a member of the bipartisan gang. He predicts the demise of the group will turn up the heat on Republicans to get something done, though advocates and many Democrats are insisting on pathways to citizenship and reject some of the Republicans’ proposed enforcement measures.
Just to be sure leadership feels that heat, rallies are planned across the country on Oct. 5 and another on Oct. 8 in Washington, Gutierrez said in a statement.
Some Democrats and advocates were couching the breakup of the group as something of a liberation. As Frank Sharry, founder and director of the pro-immigration America’s Voice said, Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra of California, Zoe Lofgren of California, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Gutierrez “are freed from the cul de sac they’ve been stuck in.”
Becerra, who chairs the Democratic Caucus, praised the departing members, Carter and Johnson, in his statement, but then said it was time for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring immigration to the floor. “No more excuses, no more delays – it’s time to vote,” Becerra said.