Republicans are already in the beginning stages of planning their legislative agenda if they take control of the Senate in November, and many say immigration reform would be a top priority, even while President Obama’s trustworthiness as a legislative partner remains in doubt.
“I don’t know anyone who thinks the immigration system is working the way it should, so we’re gonna have some ideas and we’re going to move them across the floor in smaller consensus — on a consensus basis. And not the sort of divisive, all-or-nothing, pig-in-the-python sort of method,” Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told Breitbart News last week when asked about the prospect of a GOP-controlled Senate pushing its own immigration reform agenda.
Days earlier, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Republicans would “absolutely” try to pass better immigration reform legislation if the GOP wins the Senate in November.
Even some noted anti-amnesty hawks sounded relatively optimistic.
“I think there is a better prospect that we would go forward with some immigration initiative if the Republicans control the Senate, but we still have the problem of trusting the president. But I think we’d be in a better position to try and enforce the law if we have both the House and the Senate,” Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) told Breitbart Tuesday.
House Republicans are quick to point out the lack of confidence many have in the Obama administration’s willingness to fully implement what Congress passes.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) noted that the GOP has controlled the Senate before without passing immigration reform and alluded to concerns about Obama’s lack of enforcement of immigration law.
“That is a very legitimate concern,” Gowdy said of Obama’s enforcement of the law, “and releasing detainees, some of whom have criminal records, really undercuts the authenticity of the president’s argument that he wants to do something.” Gowdy added, “That is impossible to explain.”
A recent report revealed that last year the Obama administration released more than 36,000 criminal immigrants, convicted of nearly 88,000 crimes and awaiting the outcome of deportation proceedings.
The Obama factor is not lost on one of the most vocal Republican backers of immigration reform, but for another reason.
“No matter who pushes immigration, here is your dilemma: We’re not going to get the visas we want, or the border security we want, and the employer verification we want without dealing with the 11 million,” said South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, who helped pass an immigration reform bill in the Senate last year.
“President Obama is still going to be president, there is no way he is going to sign a bill into law that doesn’t have some kind of firm, fair treatment of the 11 million, so that’s reality. We may have the House and the Senate but we don’t have the White House,” he added.
While many Republicans say they are for immigration reform, Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said it is all in the definitions.
“I would say that over 90 percent of congressmen and senators are for immigration reform,” Brooks said Monday, adding that he is for immigration reform himself. “The problem is we have wildly different meanings when we use the phrase immigration reform. To me, for example, getting someone in the White House who enforces our laws and deports illegal aliens, that’s immigration reform. But that is not what Chuck Schumer, or Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), or Barack Obama mean.”
According to Brooks, Schumer, Reid, and Obama are looking at the current illegal immigrant population as future voters who will influence elections for the Democratic party.
Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL), on the other hand, has previously warned that Obama may unilaterally enact amnesty, blowing up the chances of a legislative deal. Asked about 2015, he was circumspect.
“I don’t want to talk about hypotheticals, but just a mathematical reality is that we need to do something based on Republican, conservative principles; but we’re going to have to get a few Democrats, obviously, otherwise we’re not going to be able to pass it,” he said.
Schumer told The Hill last week that Democrats likely would not be on board with the idea of immigration reform through separate bills and argued that, if the House did not pass immigration reform before August, it will not happen until 2017 or later.
Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said he would need to see the details of any proposal and expressed optimism that, should the GOP take the Senate, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley would likely be the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. King said if that were the case, he “would get more sleep at night” and that he believed such an effort “would look dramatically different than the one that came out of the Senate.”
King argued, however, that while lawmakers should have the debate, any new immigration legislation should be saved for another president’s desk.
“My counsel would be let’s have the debate, let’s set the groundwork, let’s get to an American consensus, let’s put it on the desk of the next president, because this one has decried his own oath of office,” King said.
“This president will not enforce any law he does not like,” he added. “Plus, you put it on his desk, he’ll veto it, so why make a deal with him? If you make a deal with him you get a bill on his desk that he will sign, he will enforce the parts of the bill he likes; he’ll not enforce the parts he doesn’t like. That’s what he’s doing now.”
Indeed, Tuesday House Speaker Boehner, who has reportedly said he is “hell-bent” on passing immigration reform this year, did not point to the Democratically controlled Senate as the reason the House has not moved forward with immigration reform to date. He pointed to President Obama.
“We’ve talked about this literally every week for the last 18 months, and I think it’s clear over the last several months that until the president gives us some reason, some confidence that we can trust him to implement an immigration reform bill, we’re really not going to have much to talk about,” Boehner said. “The ball is in the president’s court.”