Immigration reform tying House Republicans in knots

House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that immigration reform will not come to the floor without majority Republican support, hurting its prospects. Yet the House GOP is also planning outreach to Hispanic voters. 

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    A protester shouts out against the tough enforcement measures in the GOP-proposed Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, as he and others are removed from the audience during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
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The House GOP is tied up in knots over immigration reform.

House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio said Tuesday that he won’t bring a bill to the floor for a vote without a majority of his own caucus expressing support for it. And yet the party could face a gloomy political future if it doesn’t help pass some sort of package. Snubbing one of the nation's growing voter constituencies, Hispanic Americans, could doom Republican prospects for holding the House after the 2014 midterms or winning back the White House in 2016.

So what’s a conflicted Republican Party to do?

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Host a series of meetups with Hispanic voters, reports Yahoo News. Because when politicians can’t deliver for a constituency, more gabbing with their leaders is always the answer.

The House Republican Conference, chaired by Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is planning four sessions between Hispanics  and Republican lawmakers at the Capitol this summer, according to Yahoo.

“It’s important that we’re having this two-way conversation and hearing the ideas and concerns from a broad base of people from around the country," Ms. McMorris Rodgers told the site, in an interview. “More than anything we want them to know that we want to have this relationship with them.... It’s our effort to build relationships with people all around the country to talk to them about issues that impact their daily lives.”

The GOP conference plans to host the first meeting tomorrow with Hispanic faith leaders; on July 18, with Hispanic women and, separately, with young people; and a final confab Aug. 1 that will focus on jobs and the economy, per Yahoo.

Still, the drumbeat is getting louder for the GOP to make a move on reform sooner rather than later. And not just because some believe it’s the right thing to do, but because others see an insurmountable political obstacle for the party should lawmakers not pass comprehensive reform.

“House GOP could commit political suicide by defeating immigration reform,” suggests one columnist for The Hill newspaper.

Latinos voted for President Obama over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, 71 percent to 27 percent. They were 10 percent of the overall voting population during the 2012 White House contest, and helped Mr. Obama best Mr. Romney in key battleground states (Nevada, Colorado, and Florida). CNN reports that the number of registered Latino voters has increased by 26 percent since 2008.

House Republicans have both expressed reservations about creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions of immigrants now living illegally in the United States and called for stronger border controls.

And Speaker Boehner said Tuesday he’s not interested in the Senate’s bill because "I frankly think the Senate bill is weak on border security."

"Any immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties' support if we're really serious about making that happen. And so I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans," Boehner said.

Fueling the already tense atmosphere around the issue, the House Judiciary Committee discussed a proposal called the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, sponsored by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina. 

The bill would put the hammer down on illegal immigrants. The Seattle Times reports that it “would empower state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws, make passport and visa fraud into aggravated felonies subject to deportation, funnel money into building more detention centers, and crack down on immigrants suspected of posing dangers.”

The Judiciary Committee's debate on this measure prompted protest in the hearing room. “Shame, shame, shame! More of the same!” cried a dozen bystanders, before being escorted from the room.

This is the first immigration bill to come to a vote in a House committee this year. But Democrats pounced, citing its ill intentions.

"This bill must be opposed, it would turn millions of undocumented immigrants into criminals overnight,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) of California

Moreover, critics say that the subtext of GOP opposition to immigration reform is simply bigotry against Hispanics. Whether Americans will embrace foreigners who have made their homes, held jobs, and raised families here cuts to the core of who we are as a society, they add.

House Democrats want to see a vote on an immigration bill with bipartisan support, even if that bill doesn’t have the majority backing of the GOP. Boehner doesn't want to risk an up-or-down vote that might taint his members going into their reelections.

So the House GOP will meet to let Hispanic leaders air their concerns and grievances. But rest assured Democrats won’t let voters forget if Boehner and his team produce talking points but no sweeping legislation.

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