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After Senate immigration marathon, House signals narrow path

With lawmakers back in Washington after their Fourth of July recess, House leaders are once again reiterating that they’re going their own way on immigration reform.
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With lawmakers back in Washington after their Fourth of July recess, House leaders are once again reiterating that they’re going their own way on immigration reform.

“We believe that a commonsense, step-by-step approach is the right way,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Tuesday, pointing to the work of the House Judiciary Committee on several smaller pieces of legislation. “We’ve talked about it for months.”

Asked about a bipartisan House working group that has yet to unveil the details of a comprehensive bill, once considered a possible legislative vehicle for House legislation, Boehner merely praised their efforts and said he is “look[ing] forward to their involvement” in the process.

The Senate passed a sweeping reform bill before the break by a bipartisan 68-32 margin. But it was clear even before passage that the GOP-led House would decline to take up the upper chamber’s bill after the July 4th vacation.

Opponents of the Senate legislation got an assist Tuesday from conservative commentators Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry, who penned a National Review op-ed bluntly titled“Kill the Bill.”

Urging the House not to allow any kind of “conference” or blending process with the Senate legislation, the authors argue that there’s little incentive – or urgency - for Republicans to address the immigration issue now.

“Passing any version of the Gang of Eight’s bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing,” they wrote. “House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart. “

Pro-reform groups are keeping up efforts to maintain momentum. 

Organizations like the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of faith groups supporting immigration reform efforts in Congress, are working to broaden support for House action. According to Matt Staver, the chairman of Liberty Counsel, about a half dozen religious organizations, including the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council and the Southern Baptist Association, are lobbying House members to move forward with some kind of legislation, whether it’s the Senate bill or a separate House effort.

“As long as they’re [the House members] willing to engage in the dialogue and keep moving forward, I’m okay if they want to start over again,” said David Cooper, a Christian school president and another member of the coalition. “I’m not endorsing a single bill that’s out there right now, but I am standing behind the general principle that the Evangelical Immigration Table has put forward.”

Republican proponents of comprehensive reform also haven't given up the fight for a bill that includes a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants – a central tenet of the Senate bill and a non-negotiable component of any legislation for Democrats on both sides of the aisle.

Three prominent conservatives – Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Al Cardenas of the American Conservative Union – implored Boehner in an open letter to "to take up a comprehensive package of immigration reforms – be it one bill or many – that secures our border, increases the legal flow of workers, and deals sensibly with the undocumented population." 

Republicans in the House are scheduled to meet Wednesday for a special conference to discuss the immigration issue.