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Gutiérrez: Immigration Letter Buries GOP's Chances for 2016

Gutiérrez thinks Republicans are about to step in it thanks to Brooks' letter. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It's a little more than a year out from Election Day, but Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez has already made plans, and he's thanking his Republican colleagues for helping set the schedule.  

"I've got arrangements for early the Wednesday after the election to really have a great celebration in 2016, and I know I can buy those airline tickets and make those hotel reservations and that I'm going to be very, very happy, because I'm going to be well rested, because it's going to be a very early night," the Illinois Democrat said as members were heading out of town on Oct. 29. Gutiérrez was responding to an extraordinary gauntlet Republicans threw down on Oct. 27. That would be the letter Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., entered into the Congressional Record as the first order of business when the House convened that day.  

Brooks used his five-minute allotment during Morning Hour Debate to share a letter he "hand-delivered" to Rep. Paul D. Ryan, summarizing what Brooks said was a commitment the Wisconsin Republican made to conservatives to hold off on immigration legislation, except under very narrow circumstances, if he were to become speaker.  

The letter, in part, read:  

"Your past record and current stance on immigration conflicts with the values I represent and causes great concern to me and the Americans I represent. Yesterday during discussions about the Speaker race, you made two representations about immigration that stood out. They are:

  1. It is unwise or unproductive to bring up any immigration legislation so long as Barack Obama is President.
  2. As Speaker, you will not allow any immigration bill to reach the House Floor for a vote unless the immigration bill is 'supported by a majority of  the majority' of Republican House Members."

To put a fine point on it, Brooks said on the floor that on Oct. 22 "at roughly 5:20 p.m., Paul Ryan called me and stated that my letter accurately portrayed his immigration presentations. Paul Ryan confirmed that he meant what he said and would keep his word."  

Ryan's office did not respond to requests for comment on this story.  

But on the Sunday morning political shows and in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters Friday, the new speaker made clear he is taking immigration off the table. He said  it would be "ridiculous" to work on an immigration deal, saying Republicans "can't trust'' Obama, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. "I don't think that's in the cards for this Congress, outside of things that we do agree on, like border and interior enforcement," he told reporters.  

Brooks explained to CQ Roll Call why he inserted the letter, complete with that explanation, into the Record.  

"Verbal agreements tend to fade with our memory. But things that are memorialized in writing are permanent. That's my legal training that came in there," he said.  

Gutiérrez, who has worked for years to bring an immigration overhaul to the floor , including with Ryan, said such sentiment would haunt the GOP.  

"Unfortunately, Congressman Brooks doesn't want Republicans to ever elect a Republican president of the United States," Gutiérrez said. "It's clear. ... You know what? That is a recipe for disaster next November."  

Brooks says bring it on.  

"I sure hope the Democrats will make hay out of it in the 2016 elections," he told CQ Roll Call. "The Democrat position on illegal aliens is indefensible and the only time Democrats can exploit the issue successfully is when they are up against a Republican candidate who does not understand the issue well enough to destroy the Democrat position."  

Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, didn't indicate how his party might approach such a pledge from Ryan.  

As members left the House chamber after Ryan's swearing in on Oct. 29, Luján cited the immigration overhaul efforts in previous years of various bipartisan groups. "I'm hopeful those good ideas that were fleshed out and compromises brought to the table, that that has a shot of coming back. Maybe we'll see a bipartisan approach here soon. But nonetheless that needs to come to the floor," he said.  

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the National Council of La Raza’s deputy vice president of the office of research, advocacy, and legislation, said Brooks' pledge would make such compromise difficult.  

"This unfortunately is the embodiment of the problem that is facing not only Mr. Ryan but, frankly, the Republican Party. The pledge that Mr. Mo Brooks is requesting is basically a pledge that guarantees Republicans will not only not solve their own political problems with Latinos, but they will not solve the problem of immigration with the American people," she told CQ Roll Call.  

Ryan might reasonably expect a honeymoon period on the issue. He's worked with Gutiérrez before. And the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce congratulated him on the new gig on Oct. 30.  

"We'd like to congratulate Congressman Paul Ryan, who we have collaborated with in the past, on becoming Speaker of the House. We look forward to continue working with now, Speaker Ryan, on legislative issues that advance the interests of America's 4.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses throughout our country," the statement from the group's chief executive officer, Javier Palomarez, said.  

But the presidential election, and the higher turnout that comes with it, will likely put some pressure on Ryan from both sides of the issue as the parties duke it out over turnout.  

Related: Immigration Battle Reveals Big, Little Congressional Details See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

Topics: immigration imgr