Steny Hoyer: immigration reform not more urgent than energy bill

Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, says new reports about a push for immigration reform don't mean Congress will put an energy bill on the back burner.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer, flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, speaks about financial reform in Washington on April 14. Congressman Hoyer answered questions Thursday about whether Congress's next priority is immigration reform or an energy bill.

Amid reports that congressional Democrats are preparing to try to pass immigration reform this year, House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland denied Thursday that that’s a signal that Democrats see the issue as more important than an energy bill and other pending issues.

“I don’t know that anybody made a determination in the discussions I have had with leadership that immigration is more important than energy,” said Congressman Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, at a reporters’ breakfast hosted by the Monitor. “Energy independence obviously we believe is a very important issue.”

Hoyer cited rising gasoline prices and America’s continued dependence on foreign sources of energy as important concerns. The House passed energy and climate legislation last year, but the Senate has yet to act.

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On immigration, Hoyer said that if the Senate passes legislation, the House will take up the issue.

“I am not sure the Senate can move an immigration bill,” Hoyer said. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada “indicates he wants to try to move an immigration bill. If he can move an immigration bill, the position the speaker and I have taken is we will address that matter.”

As president, George W. Bush sought and failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform, which would address both border security and create a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. The issue divides both parties, but may be tougher politically for Republicans. And that may well explain why the Democrats are looking to move on the issue this year.

Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the country, and represent an increasingly important bloc of voters. President Bush did relatively well with them in his two presidential victories, but in 2008, President Obama did even better, winning 68 percent of the Latino vote.

Moving the issue up on the legislative calendar, ahead of this November’s crucial midterms, may well reflect a desire on the part of Democrats to satisfy voters who worked hard for Obama’s election and have been demanding action on their issues.

“It certainly matters that we acknowledge that this is an important issue that we ought to deal with, and that is what we have done,” says Hoyer.

Hoyer notes that one of the top Republican advocates of comprehensive immigration reform, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has backed away from his position, first as a presidential candidate, and now in light of a challenge he faces from the right in his reelection race.

So far, the only Senate Republican working on the issue is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina. Obama is trying to get other Republicans on board, including the newest senator, Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts. On Tuesday, Obama called Brown, who would not commit to supporting the bill.

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