Victory for Steve King faction of GOP on immigration reform

The writing was on the wall this summer, but U.S. House Speaker John Boehner made it official yesterday: the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not take up the bipartisan Senate-passed immigration reform bill, nor will the House ever go to conference committee negotiations on that bill.

It’s a triumph for Representative Steve King (IA-04), who has made it his mission to stop any effort to grant legal status or citizenship to undocumented immigrants.

Earlier this year, national Republican leaders called for the party to promote “positive solutions on immigration,” as a gateway for appealing to Latino voters. A “gang of eight” senators from both parties offered a comprehensive immigration reform proposal, and after some changes, a version of their plan passed the Senate by a strong two-thirds majority.

Some House Republicans, including King, became concerned this spring that House leaders would cut a deal to allow immigration reform to pass, presumably with mostly Democratic votes. Speaker Boehner reassured his caucus that he would honor the so-called “Hastert rule” against bringing up bills not supported by a majority of the majority caucus.

Yesterday Boehner made a similar promise in more explicit terms:

“We’ve made it clear we’re going to move on a common-sense, step-by-step approach in terms of how we deal with immigration,” Boehner said after a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting.

“The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House. And frankly, I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”

It’s questionable that even narrowly-focused immigration reform bills could pass the House without Democratic votes. As Greg Sargent explained here, House Democrats are now unlikely to vote for piecemeal immigration bills, knowing that Boehner never intends to hash out a compromise with Senate leaders in a conference committee.

King’s bigoted comments about undocumented immigrants may be an ongoing nightmare for GOP strategists and an embarrassment to many Iowans. But rather than marginalizing the House members who share King’s views, Boehner has empowered them. He may be worried about his speakership. Ten days ago, King gave the House speaker a backhanded compliment and a warning in an interview with Newsmax:

Asked to assess House Speaker John Boehner’s performance and the possibility he could be replaced before the next election, King observes: “John Boehner has been stronger throughout this partial shutdown and the debt ceiling than most everybody thought he would be. He did serve to unify the conference better than I thought.

“We’ll have to see how the future issues play out. For example, if immigration comes before the House, it would be the most divisive thing that could be brought up by Republicans in the House. Then I would have a different answer to that question.”

Looks like King can relax for the duration of this Congress, at least.  

  • I hope

    That Democrats nationally and collectively are going to make good hay with this. It’d be a shame to let such a good campaign issue be simply wasted.

    • long-term

      this is a political problem for the GOP. But it may not be a problem for most House Republicans, given the kind of districts they represent.

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