Updated: Feb. 25, 7:21 p.m. | While Speaker John A. Boehner says his conference "by and large" backs the immigration outline the leadership presented in January at the GOP retreat, a poll of every House Republican conducted by CQ Roll Call found only 19 who would confirm their support.
We surveyed Republican lawmakers' offices and combed through member statements to see if they supported the immigration principles , which include a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants and a pathway to citizenship for children brought here illegally. The tally found 19 backing leadership's standards, two more who said "possibly yes," 30 Republicans openly opposing the principles, 22 who refused to say and 25 who were undecided. Three others had nuanced responses. The other 131 did not respond to calls or emails over a two-week period.
Given the number of Republicans who declined to answer or wouldn’t give a binary response, it’s possible Republicans see support for the broadly worded principles as a proxy for supporting an immigration overhaul this year. But with such a seeming dearth of support, the likelihood Republicans could move legislation — in this Congress or the next — seems bleak.
Boehner and GOP leadership have already put an immigration overhaul on ice for now, blaming a lack of trust in President Barack Obama within the conference. But the threshold question remains: Are Republicans willing to support any broad immigration legislation along the lines of what GOP leadership laid out?
Most lawmakers contacted by CQ Roll Call simply aren't ready to answer.
The principles are not legislation, and because there is no set of bills codifying them, many Republicans declined to answer before leadership presents actual legislative text. And that's not expected any time soon.
A common refrain from Republicans was opposition to “amnesty,” but how that politically toxic word in GOP circles is defined remains an essential question.
Supporters of the principles say they are not equivalent to amnesty — people here illegally would pay fines and back taxes, among other provisions. And under the House principles, those people would not have a "special" path to citizenship. But many immigration opponents charge that anything short of enforcing existing laws and requiring illegal immigrants to leave the country is amnesty — and that’s a talking point that seems to have sticking power with the GOP.
“Amnesty by any other name is still amnesty,” Texas Rep. Michael C. Burgess said in a statement.
“I will oppose any policy that allows individuals who have cheated the system and entered the country illegally to gain citizenship ahead of those who have put in the time and effort to follow the appropriate process,” North Carolina Rep. Walter B. Jones told CQ Roll Call in a statement.
What our poll seemed to confirm was what reporters have heard from Republicans repeatedly : There are vocal minorities in the GOP on both sides of the immigration issue. In the middle is a large group of Republicans who could be swayed either way. But many of those same Republicans believe Obama can’t be trusted to implement an immigration overhaul.
Still, such a lackluster response from Republicans undermines Boehner’s contention that a majority of his conference supports the immigration principles, which were written in a broad fashion so as to attract the most support possible.
There is a silver lining for people who want to see a broad measure passed — there are enough GOP votes to pass legislation, as long as almost every Democrat stays in the "yes" column. It's a tactic Boehner used to pass a clean debt ceiling hike , but he swears to his conference he has no interest in doing immigration in the same manner.
Presented with the CQ Roll Call vote tally, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said that what Boehner said remains the same: “House Republicans by and large support the immigration principles, but members — and the American people — simply don't trust that the Obama administration will implement any part of immigration reform it doesn’t like or support." Until that changes, "it is going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation," Steel said.
For now, Republicans appear to have found cover by blaming Obama. But Democrats are already crying foul.
“House Democrats have been ready for months with a bipartisan proposal, and the time for fictional excuses is over,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told CQ Roll Call in a statement.
A swath of Republicans said the principles and the immigration issue on the whole were “too complicated for a simple yes or no,” as Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall’s press secretary told CQ Roll Call.
But, as Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia said — and as Boehner has repeatedly affirmed — Republicans are only going to take up an immigration overhaul that is supported by a majority of House Republicans.
“The immigration standards document remains a work in progress and is meant to help the Leadership ascertain what the strong majority of House Republicans are willing to support,” Goodlatte said in a statement.
“It was good for members to have the opportunity to have a healthy discussion about this issue,” Goodlatte said.
Goodlatte, notably, didn't give a yes or no answer on whether he supports leadership's principles.
And as our tally suggests, leadership has a lot more work to do.
The tally was conducted by Fuller and CQ Roll Call staffers Abby Livingston, Alex Lazar, Christina Bellantoni, Chris Nehls, David Michaels, Daniel Newhauser, Emma Dumain, Eric Naing, Hannah Hess, Jay Hunter, Katey McGettrick, Nell Benton, Steven T. Dennis and Warren Rojas. Additional research by intern Bridget Bowman. Check out our Tuesday story detailing the new breakdown: 19 House Republicans say they support the principles, two Republicans could possibly support them. There are 34 Republicans in the “no” category. Three have qualified their answers. The tally stands at 26 Republicans either undecided or with no position yet and 21 who have declined to comment. And 127 have not responded to our queries made over a two-week period. See the full breakdown here, and if you have an update to this list, please email mattfuller-at-rollcall.com. Correction: 11:40 a.m. This post was corrected to reflect the principles were released on Jan. 30.