Sunday, October 27, 2013

GOP comfortable ignoring Obama pleas for vote on immigration bill

By Russell Berman - 10/25/13 – The Hill
For President Obama and advocates hoping for a House vote on immigration reform this year, the reality is simple: Fat chance.
Obama repeatedly since the shutdown has sought to turn the nation’s focus to immigration reform and pressure Republicans to take up the Senate’s bill, or something similar.
But there are no signs that Republicans are feeling any pressure.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly ruled out taking up the comprehensive Senate bill, and senior Republicans say it is unlikely that the party, bruised from its internal battle over the government shutdown, will pivot quickly to an issue that has long rankled conservatives.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a leadership ally, told reporters Wednesday there is virtually no chance the party would take up immigration reform before the next round of budget and debt ceiling fights are settled. While that could happen by December if a budget conference committee strikes an agreement, that fight is more likely to drag well in 2014: the next deadline for lifting the debt ceiling, for example, is not until Feb. 7.
“I don’t even think we’ll get to that point until we get these other problems solved,” Cole said.
He said it was unrealistic to expect the House to be able to tackle what he called the “divisive and difficult issue” of immigration when it can barely handle the most basic task of keeping the government’s lights on.
“We’re not sure we can chew gum, let alone walk and chew gum, so let’s just chew gum for a while,” Cole said.
In a colloquy on the House floor, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asked Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to outline the GOP's agenda between now and the end of 2013.
Cantor rattled off a handful of issues – finishing a farm bill, energy legislation, more efforts to go after ObamaCare – but immigration reform was notably absent.
When Hoyer asked Cantor directly on the House floor for an update on immigration efforts, the majority leader was similarly vague.
There are plenty of bipartisan efforts underway and in discussion between members on both sides of the aisle to try and address what is broken about our immigration system,” Cantor said. “The committees are still working on this issue, and I expect us to move forward this year in trying to address reform and what is broken about our system.”
Immigration reform advocates in both parties have long set the end of the year as a soft deadline for enacting an overhaul because of the assumption that it would be impossible to pass such contentious legislation in an election year.
Aides say party leaders have not ruled out bringing up immigration reform in the next two months, but there is no current plan to do so.
The legislative calendar is also quite limited; because of holidays and recesses, the House is scheduled to be in session for just five weeks the remainder of the year.
In recent weeks, however, some advocates have held out hope that the issue would remain viable for the first few months of 2014, before the midterm congressional campaigns heat up.
Democrats and immigration reform activists have long vowed to punish Republicans in 2014 if they stymie reform efforts, and the issue is expected play prominently in districts with a significant percentage of Hispanic voters next year.
With the shutdown having sent the GOP’s approval rating plummeting, Democrats have appealed to Republicans to use immigration reform as a chance to demonstrate to voters that the two parties can work together and that Congress can do more than simply careen from crisis to crisis.
“Rather than create problems, let’s prove to the American people that Washington can actually solve some problems,” Obama said Thursday in his latest effort to spur the issue on.
But Republicans largely dismiss that line of thinking and say the two-week shutdown damaged what little trust between the GOP and Obama there was at the outset.
“There is a sincere desire to get it done, but there is also very little goodwill after the president spent the last two months refusing to work with us,” a House GOP leadership aide said. “In that way, his approach in the fiscal fights was very short-sighted: it made his achieving his real priorities much more difficult.”
Once again Mr. Obama has left a hot button issue to languish on the shelf until the last minute and then trots it out to be dealt with “immediately, if not sooner”. He has employed this method in the past to divert the public’s attention away from another issue that is not going well. Unfortunately, it is a tired old strategy that doesn’t work too well with those who understand the game of politics. House Republicans are not falling for it this time and the current session of Congress is very quickly coming to a close. Perhaps, the President may have gone to the well once too often on this issue. But then again, he doesn’t have much to lose politically because, as he has reminded us recently, he is not running for re-election.
Jack Meehan, National President Emeritus
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America
Irish Immigration Activist

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Immigration Reform Groups Resume Fight

Immigration Reform Groups Resume Fight
 October 22, 2013 - Politico -Seung Min Kim
 With the brutal fiscal fight now in Capitol Hill’s rearview mirror, immigration reform advocates from across the spectrum are ramping up the pressure on lawmakers to pass a far-reaching overhaul this year.
The more aggressive wing of the immigration reform community is launching a “week of escalation” that will target the top three House GOP leaders and roughly two dozen other Republican lawmakers. Their goal is a vote on immigration reform this year. And the Evangelical Immigration Table is releasing a letter Monday signed by top faith leaders — a missive that comes amid a nationwide prayer blitz for reform.
There’s a glimmer of hope that the House will pass immigration reform this year, but after the shutdown’s end, it’s faint at best. Although the Senate passed comprehensive reform in June, most House Republicans remain highly skeptical of such sweeping overhauls, and there’s no indication that chamber will move its own package of reform bills anytime soon.
Nonetheless, advocates are resuming the fight.
“The dynamics on this are very different than what we saw on the fiscal issue,” said Ali Noorani, who leads the pro-reform National Immigration Forum. “We’re seeing this groundswell of support for reform from the right; … we don’t see that groundswell from both sides of the spectrum on any other issue.”
In a new letter, the Evangelical Immigration Table urges the House to continue working on immigration and take up reform that includes a pathway to legalization or citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The letter, provided to POLITICO, includes signers from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as Sojourners, and is mostly complimentary of the House, although it criticizes an interior enforcement immigration bill that passed the Judiciary Committee in June.
“The work the House has done on immigration reform thus far is commendable,” reads the letter from the Evangelical Immigration Table, which has convened more than 40 major prayer gatherings and roughly 400 smaller ones scattered throughout 40 states.
Meanwhile, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, an umbrella organization for an array of immigration rights groups nationwide, wants to intensify the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as well as 26 Republicans who represent areas with a significant population of Latino and Asian voters. The so-called escalation events will focus on pushing the lawmakers for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform through visits to their Washington and district offices.
“You should expect to see more escalations and more … civil acts of disobedience,” said Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the coalition, who added that activities will also be planned for November. Groups in the Fair Immigration Reform Movement have held several events at which reform advocates have gotten themselves arrested to call attention to the issue.
Meanwhile, Noorani’s Forum is involved in organizing an event Oct. 28-29 during which more than 300 conservative backers of immigration reform will press lawmakers on the need to take up a comprehensive overhaul. They come from more than 50 congressional districts, and among the major GOP-friendly groups involved in the effort are the Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-reform coalition headed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and, the advocacy organization founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, according to Alex Katz, a spokesman for Bloomberg’s group.
There is still some under-the-radar activity on the issue in the GOP-led House.
A swath of Republicans is still quietly crafting bills that would each overhaul a different section of the immigration system. Five bills have passed key committees, and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia has indicated that his panel is working on four more immigration measures.
One would be a legalization measure for young undocumented immigrants being spearheaded by Cantor. Another is a bill providing temporary visas for immigrant workers by Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Raul Labrador of Idaho. A committee aide said Goodlatte currently has no timetable to bring up the other immigration bills.
There is also a bill that would create a biometric exit system sponsored by Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) intended to reduce visa overstays, but that measure would go through the Homeland Security Committee.
The official word from House Republican leadership is that the chamber still has immigration reform on its agenda, with Boehner spokesman Michael Steel saying the speaker “remains committed to a step-by-step process to fix our broken immigration system.”
But Republicans privately and publicly say their already testy relations with President Barack Obama have been poisoned by the rancorous fiscal battle, which ended with a major capitulation from congressional Republicans. Rep. Raul Labrador, a conservative backer of immigration reform, encapsulated that thinking at a recent forum when he said it would be “crazy” for House Republicans to negotiate with Obama after the grueling past few weeks.
“The president’s attitude and actions over the past few weeks have certainly made getting anything done on immigration considerably harder,” a senior congressional Republican aide said in an email.
Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, one of the House’s biggest GOP proponents of a rewrite of U.S. immigration laws, acknowledged that the shutdown and debt limit battle “clearly … doesn’t make it easier” for reform. Still, he dismissed the influence that Obama may hold in the House on immigration.
“The president has not been a factor, has never been a factor and as far as our efforts in the House, won’t be a factor,” Diaz-Balart said. “I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but he needs to do what he’s been doing for the last five years, which is just nothing.”
Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the pro-reform U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that Boehner emerged from the fiscal fight with widespread praise from his conservative flank, which may provide him with some room to maneuver within his Republican Conference.
“It might give him some leverage,” Appleby said, who noted that his group has “only gotten positive messages” from House GOP leaders on immigration. “I think at this point, I think the stakes are higher because the American public is playing closer attention to how Congress conducts its business.”
Democrats have made it clear that enacting immigration reform is next on their agenda after the bruising shutdown and debt ceiling battles.
Obama placed it high on his list of priorities in a speech on the day the government reopened. House Democrats have released a comprehensive immigration bill designed to pressure their GOP counterparts, but that has not attracted Republican support and will not go anywhere. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he wants to refocus on the issue.
“I think we need to get this done,” Reid said on Univision’s “Al Punto” on Sunday. “And I will never agree to anything that doesn’t have a pathway to citizenship.”
Aside from embracing a piece-by-piece process advocated by Goodlatte, the House Republican leadership hasn’t committed to a timeline or strategy for bringing immigration bills to the floor. How much Democratic support the bills would need is unclear. A bloc of House conservatives has pledged to vote against any immigration measure, even if they support the policy, to prevent the chamber from entering into a formal conference committee with the Senate and its Gang of Eight bill.
Immigration advocates were heartened somewhat by the final agreement that lifted the nation’s debt limit and ended the government shutdown, which did not gain majority support from Republicans and had to be carried by Democratic votes. They believed that it showed a willingness on Boehner’s part to allow critical legislation to pass by breaking the so-called Hastert rule, which requires majority backing from the party in control of the House.
But that may be more of an apples-to-oranges comparison, as some note.
“At some point, you have to fund government; at some point, you have to deal with the debt,” said NumbersUSA President Roy Beck, who supports reducing immigration. “There’s absolutely no similarity between those and the immigration bill.”
The other complicating factor is time.
Diaz-Balart said that is his chief concern. The debt ceiling and shutdown agreement lays out a series of short-term deadlines, such as a mid-January expiration of government funding and a debt limit that is raised until Feb. 7. The Treasury Department’s extraordinary measures could buy more time on the latter, but it’s unclear how much. But that timeline means this fall is the likeliest window Congress has to work on immigration before lawmakers will again be consumed by fiscal issues.
“There’s a very clear window now for the next month or two,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “The key is to make the case for the political imperative.”
If anybody thinks that this legislation is going to sail right through Congress, they must also believe in the tooth fairy. The Obama administration, specifically Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the President, steadfastly refused to negotiate with Congress on the debt ceiling and "Obamacare" and now they expect Congress to turn the other cheek and allow immigration reform to be passed without any opposition by the same members of Congress who were told there would be no negotiation the other two issues. As a staunch, long standing proponent of  immigration reform I truly hope that I am wrong but I fear that the Obama administration's intransigent attitude has raised the ire of many in Congress. Unfortunately, the immigration issue could suffer as a result.
Jack Meehan, National President Emeritus
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America