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Immigration Plan Questioned

In the wake of House passage of a sweeping Democratic health care overhaul, conservative Republicans were perplexed and angry Monday that their leaders decided not to force Democrats into a tough immigration vote that they believe could have brought down the bill.

House GOP leaders caught just about everybody by surprise Saturday when, toward the end of debate on the $1.3 trillion health care plan, they opted not to use a procedural motion to force a vote to bar illegal immigrants from buying insurance. Both parties were bracing for the vote and the potential fallout among Democrats divided on the issue.

But in the end, Republican leaders used the motion to recommit — their most powerful tool in shaping debate — to force a vote on a different issue, tort reform, which Democrats handily defeated. And in the wake of losing round one in the health care debate, some GOP Members were looking back and questioning why party leaders didn’t act to defeat the health care bill when they had the chance.

“If we had done that right, the bill would have been extremely unlikely [to pass], if we’d brought up the illegal immigration motion to recommit,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), ranking member on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law. “That would have been the coup de grace. It would have killed the bill.”

King estimated the bill would have gone down with about 235 votes if the illegal immigrant provision had been attached.

A GOP leadership aide explained the rationale of the tort reform motion: to force endangered Democrats to cast a vote in favor of trial lawyers over “the well-being of seniors.” Tort reform and Medicare cuts were issues that dominated statewide elections last week, the aide said, and will continue to do so in 2010 elections.

But King dismissed this logic.

“We should be able to come up with something to put them in a box on a bill this big,” he said. “I wanted to put everything into killing the bill. I wasn’t interested in anything that had later political calculations. Whenever you get something this bad, when you have a chance to kill it, you have to kill it.”

Outside of leadership, it was hard to find Republican Members who agreed with the decision not to force a vote on immigration.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said he had been urging GOP leaders to target illegal immigrants with the motion since at least 20 Democrats had said they would oppose the bill if it had the provision, which meant Republicans had a real shot at bringing down the bill.

“It sure would have seemed to made sense to include it, but I’m sure whoever made that call had an incredibly brilliant reason not to,” Gohmert said. “I said, ‘That’s a shame, that would have been good in there.’”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she also expected the vote to be on immigration and was surprised when it wasn’t. Asked whether she thought GOP leaders made a mistake by using the motion on tort reform, Bachmann said, “That’s their decision. They’re in leadership. At this point, I don’t know what their thinking was.”

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