A bipartisan overhaul of immigration, considered dead in the water just a few weeks ago, is not only alive, according to the House Republican leading efforts to broker a deal — it's gaining steam.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., told CQ Roll Call that pro-rewrite calls earlier this week from two Illinois Republicans, Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock, recent comments from Speaker John A. Boehner, combined with a rash of immigration rallies and protests across the nation in recent days, are indications that momentum has shifted back to those hoping to implement an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws this year.
Diaz-Balart, a major player in ongoing efforts to produce a bill that could balance Republican demands for border security with Democratic calls for legal status for the undocumented, said a solution is closer than ever. "I think we finally have the policy right," he said in a phone interview. "I think we have figured out a way to secure, to have border and interior security, holding the administration accountable for the enforcement ... forcing the administration to enforce the law whether they want to or not. And I think we figured out a way to deal with the folks that are here in a way that is fair — fair, by the way, to those in the legal system ... who are doing everything legally, and also deals with the folks that are here in a way that is fair and reasonable. And adheres, strictly adheres, to the rule of law.
"So I think we finally have the policy right. And what we're finding is more and more people out there as they're seeing it, different aspects of the policy, are starting to say, 'Hey, that is something that makes sense.'"
Diaz-Balart said he thinks they're close to a deal that can pass both chambers.
"It is as close as we have ever been. It is still a big, big, heavy lift," he said. "I think we're going to get there."
The Florida lawmaker's optimism comes as the immigration overhaul, declared dead by pundits and politicians alike earlier this year, is back in the headlines. Boehner, speaking at a Rotary Club luncheon in Ohio , doubled down on his support for an overhaul and openly mocked those in the Republican Conference who have dismissed immigration proposals as "amnesty."
"Here's the attitude. 'Ohhhh. Don't make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard,'" Boehner told a gathering of Rotarians at Brown's Run Country Club in Madison Township. "We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to. ... They'll take the path of least resistance."
The comments came almost a week after the Wall Street Journal reported that Boehner told backers at a fundraiser he is "hell-bent" on passing an overhaul this year, but the speaker's spokesman has said there is no plan to push immigration in the House until President Barack Obama convinces Republicans he will enforce the nation's immigration laws.
In the wake of the 2012 elections, Boehner had expressed a willingness to work with the president on the issue, even issuing a set of principles outlining the Republican position on immigration and expressing support for legal options for those who came to the country illegally, But after pushback from the GOP's tea party wing, Boehner and the House leadership put the issue on the back burner.
Obama and other leading Democrats are feeling pressure themselves from activists who are demanding a deal — or unilateral action from Obama.
Diaz-Balart said solution-oriented lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to put the needs of the country ahead of political expediency.
"We're going to need a large group of Republicans and Democrats who are willing to stand up and do what is right for our country. What I'm finding is that there are a lot of them out there," Diaz-Balart told CQ Roll Call. "I have no problems if people have objections to the policies. But if the reason ... that this is not done, is because of political gamesmanship or lack of courage, then that's something that I'm not willing to accept.
"Getting legislation that can get you to that 218 you need is not easy on this issue," he said, but "I feel really good about it."
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