A handful of House Republicans have expressed support for citizenship legislation similar to the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate over the summer. But Denham is taking the additional — and politically provocative — step of locking arms with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democrats trying to neutralize opposition from House conservatives and shake up a polarized immigration debate.
“I’m the first Republican,” he said in an interview. “I expect more to come on board.”
With fewer than 20 working days left in the current session and Congress focused largely on high-stakes budget negotiations, some House Republicans have argued in recent days that they won’t have time to debate immigration this year. Asked in a Bloomberg TV interview over the weekend if a broad immigration overhaul stood a chance of passing in the coming weeks, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said flatly, “No.”
Denham’s announcement comes as Democrats and immigrant advocates are trying to force House Speaker John A. Boehner’s (R-Ohio) hand on the issue. Key to their strategy is a new compromise bill designed to lure away enough centrist GOP members that the speaker would feel compelled to allow a vote of the full chamber — just as he did to end the government shutdown and avoid a financial default.
If Boehner were to refuse to allow a vote, Democrats say they could blame him and Republicans for blocking a “bipartisan” bill on the campaign trail next year .
The measure adopts most of the bipartisan Senate legislation, but it adds in a House GOP-backed border security bill written by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) that won unanimous, bipartisan approval last May in the House Homeland Security Committee.
That language, which would direct the government to achieve a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal border crossers, would replace controversial language added to the Senate bill at the last minute that would add 700 hundred of miles of fence and 20,000 agents along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We put forward a bill that we figured Republicans could sign onto,” said Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), a chief sponsor of the new House legislation.
Garcia said Boehner and the GOP House leadership now face a decision on whether to once again allow the full chamber to vote on a bill that could pass with a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans.
“There is a way forward,” Garcia said. Previewing the line of attack that awaits Republicans if nothing happens, Garcia added: “The Democrats have put it up. The Republicans have decided to kill immigration reform.”
Ali Noorani, head of the National Immigration Forum, described Denham’s announcement as a major development. He said the new House bill was a “good-faith effort by the Democrats and not a political grenade.” But, Noorani added, advocates remain far from attracting the support they need to make the measure more than merely symbolic.