September 20, 2013

In a blow to the hopes of passing immigration reform anytime soon, the bipartisan House “gang of seven” plan is probably dead and almost certainly won’t be introduced this fall as promised, a top Democrat on the group acknowledges.

“It doesn’t appear that we’re going to move forward with the group of seven,” Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (Ill.), a key player on immigration as a member of the gang, said in an interview with me. “The process is stalled. I don’t believe we’re going to produce a bill anytime soon.”

This undermines the already dwindling prospects for reform, because the House gang of seven plan — which would provide a path to citizenship but is significantly to the right of the Senate bill — was seen as a comprehensive plan that Republicans who genuinely want to solve the immigration problem just might coalesce around. (The gang of seven plan would reportedly provide for a probationary period for the 11 million, in which they’d admit wrongdoing, as well as onerous conditions for the path to citizenship, which would be 15 years long.)

But Gutierrez tells me that House Republicans on the gang of seven — who have been trying to negotiate comprehensive reform that members of both parties can support for a long time — are just not prepared to embrace a final plan. He says he believes this is because House GOP leaders are not providing Republicans on the gang with support.

“The bipartisan group just wasn’t getting support from Republican House leadership,” Gutierrez says. “It’s just not gonna happen now.”

Gutierrez continues to believe there is substantial tacit support for immigration reform even among Republicans, but that the GOP leadership refuses to acknowledge this or try to make something happen. “We need the GOP leadership to acknowledge the votes exist for reform,” he said.

Immigration reform advocates had hoped for what they call a “bipartisan moment” on reform in October, after the government shutdown fight is resolved — one that could have involved rolling out the gang of seven plan. But Gutierrez cast doubt on the possibility, noting he doesn’t expect anything to happen with the gang’s bill “anytime in the near future.”

Democratic sources tell me they believe leading House Republicans on the gang — such as Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson, conservatives who risked exposing themselves to blowback from the right in trying to craft a bipartisan solution — are set to publicly announce that the gang of seven plan is not going to happen.

It’s been reported that Republicans on the gang have backed away from reform because they caught heat from conservative constituents who wanted more assurances on border security. But Gutierrez says he believes those Republicans were prepared to support the emerging compromise — yet didn’t have GOP leadership support.

“We had agreed on virtually everything,” Gutierrez says. “The last components were enforcement components” that were down to differences over “nuances” and “language.” He adds: “That isn’t what stopped us from going forward.”

This doesn’t mean immigration reform is entirely dead. Indeed, some reformers had come to believe that the gang of seven bill was destined to fall flat even if it were released. That’s because it’s become apparent that House Republicans simply will not embrace a single comprehensive solution, an idea that has become too associated with the Senate bill and with Obama.

Instead, reformers are likely to focus on another possibility: House Republicans could roll out a series of piecemeal bills, including border security measures and citizenship for just the “Dreamers” (which House GOP leaders support). If such things were to pass, it’s possible the House and Senate (with its comprehensive bill) could get to conference negotiations, an outcome some reformers want.

But for that to happen, House Republican leaders would have to be willing to allow votes on these measures this fall, and more to the point, allow Republicans to enter into conference talks, which could mean further pressure to make concessions and compromise — something conservative opponents of reform are heavily resisting. And while it’s still unclear how House GOP leaders will proceed, they appear unwilling to move anything that isn’t supported by a majority of Republicans — dimming the prospects for real bipartisan reform.

Indeed, it remains very possible that House Republican leaders will simply let reform die — prioritizing their base over the need to repair GOP relations with Latino voters and to address a national problem both sides agree is in dire need of a solution. The likely death of the gang of seven plan seems to underscore that possibility.

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Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.