GOP Retreat: Rep. Jeff Denham Says Party’s Quietly Crafting Broad Immigration Bill

AP Photo
AP Photo

The GOP’s most outspoken proponent of comprehensive immigration reform let loose in an interview with reporters here, detailing quiet efforts to draft far-reaching legislation, saying House leadership is “committed” to bringing the hot-button topics on the floor and criticizing President Obama for carrying out too many deportations.

“We’re the party of deportation? Look at this president’s numbers!” Rep. Jeff Denham said.

The California Republican says he is part of a working group laying the ground work to bring forward comprehensive immigration reform, and that top-ranking Republicans are supportive of addressing the full gamut of immigration topics in legislation in 2015.

“I think leadership’s commitment is not only to bring up immigration reform, but to bring it up in multiple different bills. The question is the timing of that and the sequence of those bills,” Denham said.

“We’ve gotta be able to discuss the DREAMers, the 11.5 million that are here today, as well as a Guest Worker program, in the overall discussion of border security,” Denham said, later adding, “We’ve had a working group for quite some time on the various pieces of immigration on doing everything from a comprehensive bill to a step-by-step approach, but finding out who in our conference is actually open to debate and discussion.”

The revelation is important because shortly after the election, Speaker John Boehner warned Obama that moving ahead on executive actions called unconstitutional by Republicans, including Denham, would kill all chance of immigration reform.

Privately, some Republicans say the remarks were bluster for the camera, and even this week Boehner announced to members the House would soon be considering a border security bill, perhaps the first in a series of stand-alone measures.

One GOP aide said senior Republicans are anxious to move forward, but whether fierce opponents including Rep. Steve King (R-IA) may defeat their efforts is still to be determined.

“Most of the grown ups around here realize you can’t just do nothing, but how do you bring up reform when part of your conference refuses to support anything?” the aide asked.

Denham, who in 2013 became the first Republican to cosponsor a Democratic immigration bill that would give millions of illegal aliens a chance at citizenship, criticized a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill passed in the House this week that would reverse Obama’s recent executive action as well as a 2012 order to grant amnesty to individuals brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

“By adding deferred action amendment in here it goes back to a situation where you’ve got kids that came here through no fault of their own that we need to have a full discussion and debate on that now are going to be put at the top of the list for ICE to deport,” Deham said, adding that he would gladly support a “clean” funding bill without the measures and warning Republicans against “playing politics” with the underlying measure.

Although a large majority of the GOP conference voted for even the strictest language in the DHS bill, Denham said many of them could support legislation to legalize illegal immigrants.

“There were a number of members yesterday that understood this was a political drill and because this was politics they were going to support it. I think as we move a real bill forward not only will we be able to win those votes within our conference but I think the ultimate bill that will get to the president will be a true bipartisan bill that will fix reform altogether. It’s going to take several months to get there,” he said.

Denham said Senate Republicans have confided their concerns with the House-passed DHS bill in him, especially given that there is no discussion of a comprehensive immigration bill at the moment.


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