Why immigration reform is in trouble, Jeff Denham edition

August 27, 2013

Perhaps more than anybody in the House, California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham exemplifies why comprehensive immigration reform faces a very difficult road when Congress returns next month.

Denham happens to be one of the few House Republicans to come from a district with a large Latino population; 40 percent of his Central Valley district is Hispanic, according to the 2010 census. Denham has also said supportive things about both a new path to citizenship and the Senate-passed immigration bill.


House Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) speaks during the subcommittee's hearing. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

On Aug. 3, Denham voiced support for the Senate bill's path to citizenship:

When asked if that meant that he supported a pathway to citizenship, Denham hesitated for a couple of seconds before answering.

"Given the parameters that are in the Senate bill -- yes," Denham said. "My hesitation is that when I talk to people in my district, 'a pathway to citizenship' always means something different to different people.

On Aug. 8, he lamented that the Senate bill wasn't coming to a vote in the House:

“The Senate bill won’t get a vote in the House, and it’s something that could have helped this community,” Denham said, according to the Modesto Bee. “I am frustrated. I thought we’d get this done before the August work period. I think the Senate made tremendous progress. It was done bipartisan and I thought that would be enough to get the House moving forward.”

On Aug. 15, Denham again pushed for a vote on comprehensive reform rather than the piecemeal approach the House is taking:

Rep. Jeff Denham said “every issue” in immigration reform should be debated on the House floor.

“I want to make sure that we’re addressing all aspects and having a full debate in front of the American people,” the California Republican said in a brief media availability at the train station here. “I think part of the challenge is we’re talking about bits and pieces and not allowing the full debate to happen where people can engage in the overall discussion.”

On Aug. 22, Denham again said he supports a pathway to citizenship:

When asked point blank by several of the people who gave testimonies whether he supported a pathway to citizenship Denham didn’t waiver.
“I have and I will,” he said.

But Denham, who given all of that is perhaps the one House Republican you would think would support the Senate immigration bill, does not.

"Congressman Denham has said since the Senate bill passed in June that he thought it made great progress," Denham spokeswoman Jordan Langdon told Post Politics. "Many of the provisions of the Senate bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, have his support. However, he believes the Senate bill is flawed, and that the strongest immigration reform legislation will come out of a conference between the two chambers."

Asked whether Denham would oppose the Senate bill if it came to a vote, Langdon replied: "Correct."

So what does it all mean?

Very few House Republicans have come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform. And even those who do are reluctant to support the Senate bill.

If it's so difficult for members to support comprehensive reform in the abstract, it's going to be that much harder for them to support a specific bill.

And that goes for whatever form it might take -- be it the Senate bill or a negotiated bill between the House and Senate.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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