Orlando Immigration

(Immigration reform advocates march and rally through the downtown streets , Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, in Orlando, Fla. The march and rally was to support passage of a pathway-to-citizenship bill for immigration reform. (AP Photo/John Raoux))

Forecast on immigration reform? It’s getting murkier and time’s running out

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake told his hometown paper there’s a good shot of a breakthrough on immigration this year. Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton told a local crowd some 120 to 140 Republicans back immigration reform, according to a local website.

But then, Texas Republican Mike McCaul told a conservative talk show host last week he opposed going to a conference committee on immigration and  Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said to the Washington Post, immigration  isn’t going to happen this year.

There have been efforts to crystal ball the future of immigration reform and more specifically what the House plans to do this year or next.

What’s becoming clear is that there’s once again a split in the GOP, some of it fed by the upcoming 2014 elections, that the House leadership must navigate to a resolution that satisfies most of its rank-and-file.

Speaking at a National Journal forum Thursday, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said the window for passing immigration reform is open until March.

Election filing ends that month for a majority of GOP members. When filing is done for them,  they’ll know whether they have primary challengers.

Those who don’t get primary challengers  or ones that make the race very competitive would “feel more liberated to do right by the nation,” Menendez said. “But we continue to press for a vote this year ,” he said.

Clashes within the House GOP – between moderates and conservatives – have been seen on other issues, most recently, in the debate over Obamacare that led to shutting down the government and edging very close to defaulting on the nation’s debt.

Republicans are also getting  pressure from their backers and donors _ business, evangelicals, law enforcement and agricultural interests _ to move immigration along. Hundreds of those GOP loyalists descended on Washington last week to cajole GOP members on immigration.

“I think the House is probably torn,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who helped craft the Senate’s sweeping, bipartisan immigration reform bill. “There are some in the House who want to do a piecemeal approach, which is fine with me, and there are some who just don’t want to deal with the issue.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but from the country’s point of view our immigration system is hopelessly broken, from the party’s point of view, I think this issue hurts us,” said Graham, R-S.C.

Alberto Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said reports he got from the conservatives who met with House GOP members have left him believing immigration reform would be done, if not by the end of this year then by early next year, though he said it may not include legalization.

Rep. Flake told the Arizona Republic he thought the push from conservatives helped shift momentum on the issue. He suggested the House would only offer those in the country illegally the chance for citizenship through existing pathways of sponsorship from relatives, spouses or employers. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., floated that possibility in September.

“I don’t want be seen as trying to tell the House what to do. They are moving a process and have a number of people working on it and I spoke to one of them today (Tuesday). I’m pretty confident they are going to get something on the floor,” Flake told NBC Latino this week.

But many in the GOP ranks feel stung by the outcome of last month’s Obamacare-debt ceiling fight. They’ve emerged from the fight unwilling to negotiate with Democrats, saying they no longer trust President Barack Obama or his motives on immigration.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul said last week he told Boehner he does not want to go to a House-Senate conference committee on the border security bill passed by his committee and included by House Democrats in the comprehensive immigration bill they introduced last month.

He told conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham he refused an invitation to a White House meeting because “I saw it as a political trap.”

“I’ve been trying to get that border secure for the entire time I have been up here … but I am not going to go down the road of conferencing with the Senate (comprehensive) bill and I told Boehner he needs to stand up and make that very clear … We are not going to conference with the Senate, period,” McCaul said.

Others in the GOP see their political survival as dependent on getting immigration reform done in time for 2014 elections when all House members are up for re-election.

Some have heavy Hispanic districts with sufficient voters to tilt their elections. Recognizing that, Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao, R-Calif. and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., have signed on to the Democrats’ House immigration bill. Deham’s district is 40 percent Hispanic,  Valadao’s is 72 percent and Ros-Lehtinen’s is 73 percent.

Others are facing business owners, farmers and ranchers, and evangelical leaders who need the reform to sustain their workforce or are dealing with immigrants in their congregations and communities.

Fred Upton told a Rotary Club in his home state there are about 120 to 140 Republican votes in favor of immigration reform and he has backing from Boehner to try to get half the caucus to support reform, according to a report by the website MLive. He also said he expects to see some movement before Thanksgiving.

Those Republicans deserve a chance to vote on immigration reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.

“I can’t understand what is going on in the House of Representatives. It’s basically a place where no one gets to vote except whom Boehner decides can vote. That isn’t the way the House of Representatives is meant to be,” Reid said Tuesday.

“We have Republicans over there who are obsessed with spending. They could get a trillion dollars by passing immigration reform but they refuse to do that. I am so disappointed in how the House is being run,” he said. He addressed the stalled bill again on the Senate floor Thursday.

Diaz-Balart told the Washington Post that if immigration isn’t done by early next year “it flatlines.”

House GOP members are ready to move on immigration but are waiting on their leadership, said Ali Noorani, executive director for National Immigration Reform which organized the conservatives’ lobbying.

‘”They know it’s not going to be an easy vote. It’s going to cause some heartburn,” Noorani said.

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