WASHINGTON – A majority of House Republicans announced Tuesday that they oppose the Senate immigration bill, a move designed to bolster flagging efforts of Senate opponents to prevail on a key procedural vote on Tuesday.
"It's dead on arrival in the House," said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. "A comprehensive bill will not pass the House. There is significant Democratic opposition and overwhelming Republican opposition."
"There is, in fact, overwhelming opposition in the U.S. House to the Senate immigration bill," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz. "You will see an overwhelming vote in the House conference in opposition to the Senate bill and/or a letter signed by the overwhelming majority of House Republicans opposing this particular bill."
House Republican opponents of the Senate immigration bill had hoped to approve a conference-wide position against it but failed when proponents used speeches and delaying tactics to run out the clock. The glacial pace of debate led many House Republicans to leave, depriving opponents of the quorum they needed to hold a vote on a conference-wide vote of disapproval of the Senate bill.
The best that opponents of the Senate bill could muster was an 83-28 vote among House Republicans defeating a motion to kill the resolution opposing the Senate bill.
These internal House GOP squabbles accurately reflect larger party division on the volatile immigration issue. The White House discouraged any House GOP move to oppose the Senate bill, but House GOP opponents were eager to express their hostility, fearing the Senate bill could pass and arrive in the House with newfound momentum.
"We are in the midst of democracy at its best," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, who said he warned the Bush White House of the coming House GOP uprising.
"I did discuss it with them, I thought it was my job to give them a heads up. I can't say they were happy about it," Boehner said of White House reaction. "But you can't throttle back debate in the House or debate in our conference. This is a big issue. We get questions about it all the time."
Meanwhile, the Senate moved the comprehensive immigration bill back to the front-burner and prepared for a grueling debate on up to two dozen amendments to a bill that seek four immigration goals:
— Tighter border security with more Southern border fencing, technology and agents;
— A guest worker program that provides a legal means for foreign workers to obtain U.S. employment legally;
— A verifiable work document program that minimizes future illegal labor; and
— Probationary legal status and eventual permanent residency and/or citizenship for an estimated 12 million illegals already in the U.S.
GOP backers of the Senate compromise agreed late Monday to require any illegal immigrant 18 or older who seeks a Z-visa — a visa that allows them to work and live legally while awaiting a green card or citizenship — to return to their country of origin and apply.
This is designed to minimize accusations that Z-visa holders obtain legal rights in the U.S. without having to return home and apply for that status. Under the original Senate compromise, only heads of household would have had to return to their country of origin for a Z-visa. In a further bid to win conservative support, backers added $4.4 billion in new spending on border security.
Even though this change was meant to attract conservative support, House Republicans denounced these last-minute changes.
"Four billion is a sneeze at that challenge we have," Souder said. "Why does the underlying bill have amnesty in it when we're looking at least at five to seven years to implement an enforcement procedure?"
FOX News' Molly Hooper contributed to this report.