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Two immigration trains have left the station in the House, but no one knows which one Speaker John A. Boehner wants to eventually arrive on the floor.
A secretive bipartisan working group — akin to the Senate-side “gang of eight” — is trying to finalize its “comprehensive” proposal. But House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte is flexing his muscles by launching a piecemeal-type legislative push, causing tension between the two factions and questions about who will take the lead.
Lawmakers and aides involved in the secret bipartisan group privately warn that Goodlatte could potentially blow up the push for an immigration bill in the House.
But immigration is under the Judiciary Committee’s purview, and moving the bill through the panel is part of the “regular order” Republicans have been clamoring for.
“We also have a ‘Hastert rule.’ We also have regular order. And we also have a lot of people in this Congress who are not part of that little group, and they all need to have input in this process, so we’re making sure that that happens,” Goodlatte told CQ Roll Call in a brief interview.
The Virginia Republican added that “we’re encouraging the House group to reach agreement, and we will benefit from their product.” But, he reiterated, “no decision’s been made about how we pull it all together.”
Leadership aides said that’s true, that Boehner doesn’t have a thumb on either side of the scale and that a wide array of options are still on the table. Besides, it’s still unclear whether the recently unveiled bipartisan Senate group’s bill can pass in that chamber: If it does, it would put new pressure on the House.
Even while they say there is no explicit commitment from Boehner, members and aides who are part of or close to the bipartisan group seem to have confidence, even cockiness, that Boehner secretly has their back.
Part of that is based on who Boehner is as a legislator: He’s a dealmaker at heart.
But it’s also because of repeated public comments in which Boehner gave the group great deference.
The existence of the group was revealed in a video of the Ohio Republican answering questions at the Ripon Society, a conservative think tank.
In his remarks then, he said the bipartisan group was “the right group of members” to make progress on the issue of immigration and suggested some level of ownership or authorization of the effort.
“My theory was, if these folks could work this out, it’d be a big step in the right direction,” Boehner said.