Published December 21, 2016
It may be quieter than usual on Capitol Hill with lawmakers on summer recess.
But the pressure to act on immigration hardly has subsided.
In town halls back in the politicians' home districts, the topic of immigration is arising, and often dominating, as lawmakers meet with their constituents to gauge their feelings on various issues. And several groups on opposing sides of the immigration debate have planned rallies and ad campaigns aimed at influencing the immigration reform effort.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who was part of the so-called Gang of Eight – four Democrats and four Republicans – who drafted a comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate passed in June, has spent part of his summer recess urging his constituents to lobby the state’s congressional delegation to support the measure.
But in a Virginia town hall, Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, told the audience that that the House must chart its own course on immigration even if it never results in a bill President Barack Obama can sign.
He said that he'll do everything he can to ensure the House never takes up the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill. Goodlatte said the House will proceed with individual immigration bills once lawmakers return to Washington in September from their summer recess, beginning with bills on interior enforcement, border security and workplace verification.
Speaking to a capacity crowd of more than 200 people at a local government building in Verona, Va., Goodlatte gave no sign of altering the position he's been articulating for months: Immigrants here illegally should not get what he terms a "special" pathway to citizenship, which is what he sees in the Senate bill.
The resistance by many conservative Republicans in the House to the Senate bill, and to providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, prompted a coalition of evangelical leaders to launch a $400,000 radio ad campaign on Tuesday targeted at the home districts of 60 members of Congress. The ads, which will air over two weeks in 14 states, ask for prayers and passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
“Millions of evangelicals look to Christian radio for news and perspective on social, moral and spiritual issues,” said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, in a statement. “Hearing local evangelical leaders present a biblically informed call for a just, compassionate and effective immigration system will unleash a new wave of support for reform.”
On Thursday, leaders of immigrant rights groups, labor unions, and faith institutions plan a demonstration in Manhattan for comprehensive immigration reform, and against the record number of deportations under the Obama administration.
They also plan, according to a news release, to “send a message to House leadership that the fight for immigrant families will continue until the House produces comprehensive legislation that includes a path to citizenship.”
In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio, another member of the Gang of Eight, has steered clear of discussions about the measure – particularly the part of it that calls for legalizing undocumented immigrants, an idea that is unpopular with many of his conservative constituents.
At a meeting the Republican senator had with constituents recently, a local radio talk-show host asked Rubio why he had worked with Democrats on legislation that would give undocumented immigrants an eventual path to citizenship.
"We know you, and we've always loved you," Doc Washburn said, "and yet you're pushing this and it's a real problem for us."
The exchange — and Rubio's reluctance to raise the issue after spending months advocating for comprehensive immigration reform — underscore why the potential presidential candidate has undertaken a sort of image-rehabilitation tour, promoting his conservative bona fides to crowds in Florida's most Republican bastions.
Once embraced by the tea party, Rubio's name can now elicit boos and catcalls at rallies. And since he began championing immigration changes, his standing has slipped in some polls.
The senator acknowledges the fallout. He told Republicans in Panama City, "Politically, it has not been a pleasant experience, to say the least." But his aides insist that his pivot to health care is driven by policy, not politics, that he's simply giving the U.S. House its own space to tackle immigration.
In California, Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat, expressed pessimism about the odds of a comprehensive immigration reform bill passing this year.
“The bill making their way through the House I would not want to see go anywhere — they are very onerous; there is no pathway to citizenship in the bills.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.