Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Wednesday that there will not be enough votes in the House to pass the Senate's immigration bill as it is currently written even if the legislation can find the 60 votes it will need in the upper chamber.
"I can tell you that the bill as currently structured is not going to pass in the House. And I think it's going to struggle to pass in the Senate," Rubio said after a meeting between Senate and House conservatives.
Rubio’s comments came shortly before Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho conservative who has been working on immigration in the House, said he will no longer be a part of an eight-person bipartisan working group that had recently hit snags in negotiations.
Labrador left the talks after a standoff over whether newly legalized immigrants who were previously undocumented should be eligible to receive government-based health care, the issue he called the breaking point that caused him to exit the group.
"I think my exit just means that I couldn't agree with them on language," Labrador told reporters, "I don't think it means anything for immigration reform."
Earlier Wednesday, Rubio said border security provisions must be strengthened before conservatives will support the bill in sufficient numbers to make it law. He has pledged to push amendments to the bill that would stiffen those requirements and potentially shift the power to craft security plans from the Department of Homeland Security to Congress.
"If the changes don't happen, the bill can't pass," Rubio said. "We'll keep working. We won't abandon the effort. We'll keep working to ensure the bill can pass."
The Senate bill is expected to be taken up on the floor of the upper chamber next week. Rubio, along with Democrat and fellow “Gang of Eight” member Sen. Bob Menendez, has said that it does not currently have the 60 votes required for passage, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated last week that it would be “pretty easy” to pull together sufficient support.
But Rubio pointed to the Republican-controlled House as a major factor, even if the bill passes the Senate with broad bipartisan backing.
"Let's remember - the goal here is not to pass a bill out of the Senate,” he said. “The goal here is to reform our immigration laws. And that requires something that can pass the House, the Senate, and be signed by the president."
Rubio and a handful of other GOP senators -- including Jeff Flake, Rand Paul, Jeff Sessions, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz -- met with conservative House Republicans for over an hour in the basement of the Capitol to discuss the immigration reform efforts. Attendees described the meeting as an "open discussion" where participants voiced concern about passing legislation that could mirror what happened in 1986, when President Reagan signed a bill offering ‘amnesty’ to millions of undocumented immigrants.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the House will not take up the Senate bill wholesale.
"It's very clear that the House will not take the Senate bill,” Goodlatte said, noting that the panel that he chairs is working through smaller pieces of legislation to beef up border and interior enforcement.
Some House Republicans are pessimistic that a larger package could be signed into law by the end of the summer at all. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., told reporters Wednesday "It may pass in the Senate, but I don't see it passing into law."
"The border security piece of this is a big, big stumbling block," Fleming said, "I don't think Republicans are going to support anything that is milquetoast in the way of border security.”