The openness of top Democrats to the House GOP’s immigration “principles” could undercut Speaker John Boehner’s credibility on the right as he seeks to sell his conference on moving forward.
Obama had previously said he would not sign an immigration reform bill that does not provide a pathway to citizenship. On Friday, he said on CNN:
[If Boehner] proposes something that says right away, folks aren’t being deported, families aren’t being separated, we’re able to attract top young students to provide the skills or start businesses here, and then there’s a regular process of citizenship, I’m not sure how wide the divide ends up being.
On a Google Hangout event, Obama said he did not want “two categories of people” in the United States, which, after reading the “immigration principles” document, Gutierrez said would not be the case.
“You know what, the Republicans aren’t saying they must permanently stay in the status,” he said. “That is not what they are saying. So there isn’t any permanent second-class citizenship, as I’ve read. Now a lot of this is going to be in the specifics.”
GOP leaders have refused to answer questions about whether their principles would lead to citizenship for illegal aliens.
When asked three times on CBS’s Face the Nation whether illegal immigrants would ultimately be able to gain citizenship, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) avoided answering the question each time. Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) also twice refused to deny that the “immigration principles” would ultimately allow the country’s illegal immigrants to be put on a path to citizenship.
Gutierrez, who has said that this year may be the last chance for amnesty, also urged both Republicans and Democrats to “stand in the middle and leave the comfort of their caucus.”
“If your standard is citizenship for everyone immediately or no immigration reform at all, you are going to get no immigration reform at all,” he reportedly said. “People are going to have to stand in the middle and leave the comfort of their caucus.”
It may be more difficult for Boehner’s Republicans to meet Democrats in the middle, especially during a midterm election year in which turnout is lower than in a general election. The conservative base is opposed to amnesty, and many Republicans think advancing immigration issues this year would distract from Obamacare’s failures and possibly even cost them control of the Senate, as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) have insisted.
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) has said it would be a “suicide mission,” echoing the sentiments of conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh. At last week’s GOP retreat in Maryland, at least 80% of those who spoke were against moving immigration reform bills forward, as Breitbart News reported.
In addition, Boehner previously said that he would adhere to the “Hastert Rule” on immigration and only bring immigration legislation to the floor if it has the support of a “majority of the majority.” That rule actually came into effect during the immigration reform battle last decade, when then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert did not bring up legislation in the House because he did not have the support of a majority of Republicans.
Ryan, though, has suggested that Boehner could evade the “Hastert Rule.” While speaking about immigration reform at a town hall meeting in Wisconsin last July, Ryan said of potential bills, “It is not, ‘they don’t come to the floor unless we have a majority of the majority,’ because we don’t know if we have a majority until we vote on it.”