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House GOP Firmly Against Border Bill

Measure Moving Forward in Senate

Just as the Senate achieved a major breakthrough on moving forward on a comprehensive immigration bill Tuesday, House Republicans sent a message to the White House that a majority of their Members stand ready to oppose legislation that President Bush is hoping will be one last major domestic achievement in the waning months of his administration.

Hours after the Senate voted to resume debate on the immigration measure, the House Republican Conference approved a one-line resolution authored by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) on Tuesday evening — 114-23, with two Members voting “present” — that “disapproves” of the Senate bill. An effort to table the motion, offered by Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) earlier Tuesday, failed overwhelmingly, 83-28.

The Conference resolution is a rarely used, nonbinding procedural move, but it marks the first time in Bush’s tenure that a significant fraction of Members of his own party are publicly, and vocally, breaking ranks with the administration on a major policy goal.

While House Republicans were careful not to take on Bush directly in comments Tuesday, the legislation moving in the Senate is a product created in such close collaboration with the White House that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has called it “the president’s” bill.

“We have a bill that Democrats support, but it’s a Republican bill. It’s a bill that is supported by the president and all of his Cabinet,” Reid reiterated Tuesday.

In a statement, Hoekstra said House Republicans are still hopeful an immigration bill can be accomplished, but what the Senate — and the president — are working on does not meet their standards.

“A growing majority of House Republicans are uncomfortable with the product and process of the Senate immigration bill,” Hoekstra said. “A public hearing has never been held on it, and it was crafted in secret by only 12 Senators and two Cabinet officials.”

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez reiterated to reporters Tuesday that Bush is not going to back down on his push for immigration reform. This is widely seen as the best chance to complete a bill before the 2008 presidential race takes over, and Chertoff said the president is working “to make sure we grab this last opportunity to fix a huge problem.”

Gutierrez added that the president and Cabinet officials are working in tandem to counter opposition efforts. “But we’re being very aggressive, and we’re doing whatever needs to be done and spending whatever time needs to be done to ensure that this bill, that the proponents of this bill, let their voices be heard,” he said. “Because I think what’s happening is that those who disagree with the bill are very loud and very involved, and that is overshadowing the fact that the majority of the American people want this problem solved.”

By a vote of 64 to 35, the Senate resumed debate on its comprehensive immigration reform measure Tuesday afternoon, setting the stage for what could be a highly orchestrated week of limited floor debate.

Following several hours of last-minute work by GOP and Democratic negotiators, Reid shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday motioned to bring a series of 26 amendments — 13 Democratic amendments, 12 Republican amendments and a manager’s amendment — to the floor for one hour of debate.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) objected to the unanimous consent agreement, which prompted Reid to propose first providing an hour and a half of debate on each amendment, and then two hours of debate on each.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), DeMint’s ally, also objected to that proposal, explaining that “no amount of time” would be acceptable if conservatives were not afforded the chance to propose amendments as part of their “rights as Senators of the United States of America.”

In response, Reid pulled the trigger on the “clay pigeon” — a tactic that allows Reid to dictate the number of amendments, the debate time allotted for each amendment and when votes will occur on each amendment.

Reid dropped a 373-page amendment that combined all 26 proposals into one measure. DeMint, with Coburn and fellow conservative Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) looking on, objected to a motion by Reid to dispense with the required reading of the amendment, forcing a chunk of the massive tome to be read on the floor before action halted for the day. Conservatives vowed Tuesday night to look for ways to counter Reid on the floor today.

Although a senior GOP leadership aide said “there might be a few amendments, which if they pass, could make some Members seriously reconsider” their support for the bill, few if any appear at this point to rise to the level of “killer” amendments that could undermine the “grand bargain” compromise.

The commanding issue for conservatives is any provisions that provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already residing in the United States. Reid defended the merits of the bill Tuesday.

“We’ve got a pathway to legalization in this bill, which is very fair,” he said. “It does a good job making sure that people who want to become citizens speak English — not only speak English, but they pay taxes. They work, they stay out of trouble, they pay penalties and fines and go to the back of the line. That seems certainly fair to me.”

Reid said that if the Senate can work through the amendments and get cloture on the bill Thursday, they will wrap up the bill before adjourning for the July Fourth recess. “If cloture’s invoked, this bill will be finished before we go,” Reid said.

If the Senate is successful, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the goal is for the House to move on immigration when the House returns from the recess.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a key player on immigration, said the Conference resolution was not surprising but is unlikely to affect the game plan in the House.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find very many people in America who support the Senate bill, including House Republicans and House Democrats,” she said, adding that if the Senate can complete the bill this week the House will move quickly.

“Our mission is to have a bill that will be better” than the Senate version, she said.

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