Diaz-Balart's Immigration Overhaul Effort Is Dead for Now

Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., will no longer seek to advance his draft immigration bill (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After a year and a half of stops and starts, unbridled optimism and hints of inevitable defeat, Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart has declared his efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration system officially dead for the 113th Congress.  

“Despite our best efforts, today I was informed by the Republican leadership that they have no intention to bring this bill to the floor this year ," the congressman told reporters at a hastily convened press conference in the Cannon House Office Building on Thursday afternoon. "It is disappointing and highly unfortunate."  

Later, Diaz-Balart repeated, "I don't think I can hide my disappointment." Diaz-Balart has said for months that he was working on a comprehensive immigration bill, and within the past few weeks he went so far as to say it was all but ready to go , a product of months of conversations with members on both sides of the aisle. Compromises were drawn, concessions were made and a promising whip count evolved — all in secret to avoid a press leak that could blow the cover of members with whom fragile alliances were being formed.  

Holding court in the Speaker's Lobby and granting interviews to TV and print reporters, in English and in Spanish, he insisted that progress was being made, slowly but surely, and that patience could pay off in the end.  

But multiple unexpected events — most recently the primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and the uproar over the child migrant surge at the southwest border — created an insurmountable obstacle for Diaz-Balart. Members once inclined to risk political retribution for backing a controversial immigration bill became more skittish, and the appetite for passing an immigration bill, from the rank and file up to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, began to rapidly diminish.  

President Barack Obama also announced last week that Boehner had told him there would be no vote on immigration legislation this year , and that foregone conclusion signaled that Diaz-Balart might finally feel compelled to declare defeat.  

At his Thursday press conference, he said he has not yet committed to releasing the text of the legislation, still technically considered a draft as it has never been formally introduced. He also wouldn't divulge a whip count.  

"I feel absolutely confident that we had the majority — of the majority — of support from the House Republican Conference," Diaz-Balart stressed, adding that there were also a wide swatch of Democratic members prepared to buck their leadership if necessary and sign onto a GOP bill.  

While declining to name names of those ready to stand behind him, Diaz-Balart gave shout-outs to lawmakers who had been particularly helpful throughout the process.  

He thanked Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., "for all his help [and] for his willingness, when necessary, to take on Republicans, Democrats and the president."  

He said he was "grateful" for "the cooperation, advice and trust" of Boehner and his staff. Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who was, at one poin,t attempting to convince the far-right contingent of the party to come to the middle on immigration, was thanked by Diaz-Balart for his "guidance, leadership and friendship." He also thanked Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fellow Florida Republican whom Diaz-Balart called his "legislative sister."  

“I hope that, in the near future, leadership will reconsider and allow my legislation to come to the floor," he said. "I, for one, am not willing to give up and will continue to work until we can finally fix a broken immigration system that everyone recognizes is dysfunctional.  

“I want to make it very clear," he said, "that I am ready to proceed at any time.”  

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.    

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