Bill Would Protect Frosh on Immigration

Posted September 19, 2007 at 6:47pm

House Democratic leaders are drafting a resolution designed to inoculate freshman lawmakers on the issue of immigration, despite concerns from within their own Caucus about reopening debate over the contentious topic.

According to several freshman Democratic lawmakers in attendance at a weekly breakfast meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), Members were told to prepare statements on the resolution, which will endorse laws already on the books that prevent illegal immigrants from participating in taxpayer-funded programs, such as Social Security or food stamps.

In a draft of the resolution obtained by Roll Call, the measure expresses the sense of the House “with respect to the importance of upholding federal immigration laws and ensuring the integrity and security of the borders of the United States.”

In addition to the language on public benefits, the draft resolution also contains provisions calling on the executive branch to enforce laws on voter fraud and border security.

But one House lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said some senior Members have objected to the proposal over concerns that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to limit the scope of the debate. The House largely abandoned plans to pursue a comprehensive immigration reform bill earlier this year after the Senate failed to cut off debate on its own version of the legislation, effectively killing the bill.

Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) began work on the resolution earlier this month in response to repeated Republican efforts to force votes on immigration on the House floor through the use of procedural amendments.

“We’re trying to figure out a way we can do this and maintain party unity on the motions … without making it a crisis,” said one Democratic lawmaker, who is a member of the Whip operation.

Although one Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified since plans have not been finalized, said the measure could move to the floor as early as next week, a House leadership aide said it is unlikely to be that soon.

To date, Democratic leaders have not demanded that Members vote against all motions to recommit — a procedural tool that can be used by the minority party immediately before a vote on final passage of a bill — unless the amendment contains language that would shelve the legislation.

“I’ve resisted motions to recommit unless they’re substantive and then I’ll vote for them,” explained Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a freshman lawmaker who has faced attacks from the National Republican Congressional Committee for votes against some GOP-authored amendments on immigration.

“It’s frustrating to me,” Walz added, criticizing the amendments as political footballs. “I’m appreciative that our leadership lets us vote accordingly.”

But that policy led to some confusion on the House floor in early August during a vote on a GOP-authored amendment to the Agriculture spending bill to prohibit illegal immigrants from accessing certain federally funded programs, with nearly 20 Democrats initially voting in favor of the proposal.

Republicans allege that the Democratic majority mishandled that vote, resulting in the defeat of the measure. GOP leaders assert that a tied 214-214 vote — rending a defeat — announced by the Speaker Pro Tem was inaccurate and that the motion had in fact passed 215-213 as Republicans changed their votes.

But Democrats dispute that version of events, noting that their own Members were changing votes on the House floor, resulting in the final tally of 212-216.

The dispute prompted the establishment of a select committee to investigate the vote, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting this morning, and produce an interim report Sept. 30.

Republican Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), who has sponsored similar amendments addressing the use of federal funds to assist illegal immigrants, including a measure that failed Tuesday night on a federal housing bill, expressed interest in the Democratic proposal.

“I’d love to be able to talk with them about it and work on it,” Price said. He could not say whether such a measure would deter him from offering such amendments in the future without seeing the details of the bill.

“When I talk to folks at home they want to know why we’re not including this language on every single piece of legislation,” he added.