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Luis Gutierrez: pivot man on House immigration 'gang'

How the Illinois Democrat and others work in groups behind closed doors as part of the new dealmaking in Congress. 

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Its members have worked hard to keep top Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration matters, aware of their work. "I've had conversations with a great many of them about it, and we want to encourage them to produce a work product," says Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia, the Judiciary Committee chairman.

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For now, the loquacious Gutierrez and other key colleagues in the group, including Reps. Raúl Labrador (R) of Idaho and Zoe Lofgren (D) of California, are keen on adhering to the proper political etiquette of working in a cross-aisle gang. "I've been careful to adhere to the first rule of working in a bipartisan secret group: Don't talk about the secret group," Gutierrez said at a recent Monitor Breakfast.

While the lawmaker of Puerto Rican descent often clashes with Republicans on a wide variety of issues, he is willing to reach out when he feels his opponents want to compromise to get something done.

"If you have an opportunity to solve a problem," he says, "you're an idiot if you don't change the manner in which you treat your opposition when your opposition has said, 'You know what? I want to work this out.' "

And on immigration, many Republicans, after eyeing the results of the 2012 election, do want to work something out. But others remain opposed to a bill perceived as "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. So the House group is moving gingerly behind closed doors, where the search for common ground is creating some unusual bonds.

Gutierrez, a onetime cabdriver and social worker from Chicago, has formed a close relationship with Mr. Labrador, a fiscally conservative Mormon who was elected in the tea party class of 2010. Gutierrez says Labrador is one of his closest friends on the Hill.

Gutierrez has a longstanding friendship, too, with Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, another integral player in the House immigration talks. Before the election last year, Gutierrez and Mr. Ryan bumped into each other in the House gym. "I'm going to do everything I can to beat you," Gutierrez says he told Ryan. "But if you win, you're still going to take my calls, right?"

Ryan laughed and promised to call Gutierrez right away to get an immigration bill going.

"Bipartisanship is sometimes even just a rekindling of old friendships and old alliances because the opportunity and the moment is ripe," says Gutierrez. "This is the moment to get it done."

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