The Senate Thursday successfully approved a comprehensive immigration bill that it had been working on for months, now leaving the fate of immigration reform up to the Republican-controlled House. Fourteen Senate Republicans joined Democrats voting in favor, with a final vote of 68-32, but bipartisanship may not be so easy to come by in the lower chamber.
As the Senate voted on its bill, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio, reiterated his stance that his chamber would not take up the Senate bill without crafting one of its own. He said he will follow the "Hastert Rule," or the principle of not bringing any bill to the floor that doesn't have the support of a majority of the majority party.
"Apparently, some haven't gotten the message," Boehner said Thursday. "The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes … And if immigration reform is going to work, it's essential that the American people have the confidence that it's being done correctly. That's how the House will approach this issue."
Many Republicans in the lower chamber don't want a bill to include a path to citizenship, as the Senate bill does. Boehner has declined to publicly take a position on whether or not he agrees with a citizenship provision, saying he doesn't want to make rallying 117 Republicans behind a bill more difficult than it is already going to be.
Yet roadblocking immigration reform may be a politically risky move for the GOP. The Senate bill was passed with bipartisan support, which suggests the House ought to also be able to find grounds for compromise. The lower chamber does have possibility in a bill being worked on by a bipartisan group of seven representatives, but nothing has been finalized. Boehner encouraged that group to reach a deal, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it "a compromise … we can all support."
Republican Sen. John McCain, Ariz., who supported the Senate bill, said he doesn't believe Republicans would recover in 2016 if they failed to act on immigration reform. He voiced support of Boehner, and acknowledged Senate Republicans ultimately couldn't control their House counterparts: “I can’t tell the Speaker what to do,” he said. “I trust him and he’s a friend of mine and I have great confidence in his leadership.”
President Barack Obama too called on the House to act on immigration, saying, "Today, the Senate did its job. It's now time for the House to do the same."
Republican donors have expressed their desire for the House to reach an agreement on immigration reform in the name of political viability for the party. Democrats handily won the Hispanic vote in 2012, and many see a substantive immigration policy overhaul as a main way to earn votes from a key constituency.
"It's not just about appealing to Hispanic voters, though that's important," said American Crossroads President and CEO Steven Law. "There's a concern among major donors that the party is starting to seem out of touch in an increasingly diverse and dynamic America."
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- Read Boris Epshteyn: GOP Opportunities on Immigration, Voting Rights and Gay Marriage
- Read Susan Milligan: Can Boehner Get the Senate Immigration Reform Bill Through the House?
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