House Republicans met Wednesday to discuss immigration reform for the first time in seven years, formally launching what promises to be a months-long review of the contentious issue.
Leaders of the often-fractious GOP conference announced no concrete plans to hold votes on five separate immigration proposals already approved by House committees, but they said there was nearly uniform agreement that the immigration bill approved last month in the Senate would be a nonstarter in the House.
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called the Senate approach “totally irreconcilable” with the views of House Republicans. He cast doubt on whether the two chambers would ever reach an agreement. “We’ve passed lots of bills in the House that we send to the Senate and we don’t hear back from them,” he said.
But Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) was among those who implored their colleagues to work on the issue.
“No more excuses. It’s time for action,” Denham said, according to GOP aides in the room. Denham is one of several Republican lawmakers facing pressure from Democrats and immigration advocacy organizations to support reform, in part because his district has a sizable immigrant population.
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), one of the party’s leading voices on the issue, acknowledged that “there are some people who don’t want to get to a solution.” But, he added, “I think the vast majority of the conference wants to get something done.”
Divisions over how to proceed run deep among House Republicans, with some believing it is critical for Congress to establish ways for about 11 million undocumented immigrants to achieve a more permanent legal status. Others, however, would prefer to focus primarily on fortifying the southern U.S.-Mexico border.
The divisions were evident almost as soon as the meeting in a large basement conference room came to an end.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) emerged to tell reporters that she expected Republicans would conduct “a thorough, cordial, respectful discussion” of immigration.
But moments later, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) used Twitter to say that most of his colleagues agreed with Senate Republicans “and Americans. Trusting Obama w/ border security is like trusting Bill Clinton w/ your daughter.”
Other Republicans conveyed their thoughts more dramatically.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) quoted lyrics from “America the Beautiful” to his colleagues, specifically the lines, “Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”
Brooks said he used the lines to tell colleagues that he will strongly oppose any proposal “that rewards or ratifies illegal conduct. Anyone who’s come to our country who’s first step on American soil is to thumb their nose at American law and violate our law, we should not reward them with our highest honor, which is citizenship.”