Republicans eye immigration reform after budget deal exposes party rift

• House speaker signals major break from conservative wing
• Break could be strategy to make immigration push in new year

Immigration reform has emerged as the next Republican battleground after a high-profile split between party leaders and the Tea Party over budget compromise led to growing expectation of a similar bipartisan deal to legalise America's 11 million undocumented migrants.

House speaker John Boehner signalled a major break from right-wing conservatives on Thursday when he accused activist groups of losing “all credibility” by opposing his efforts to reach a deal with Democrats over the $1tn federal budget.

Heritage Action, a group behind many Tea Party Republicans, issued a testy response on Friday, claiming Boehner was trying to clear the way for immigration reform next year by severing his links with opponents on the right of the party.

Some conservative commentators, such as Red State blogger Erick Erickson, have even speculated this was the prime motivation behind Boehner's surprise attack on the right, describing it as the “first real shots” in the party's forthcoming battle over immigration.

Boehner's office was not immediately available for comment on Friday, and there were plenty of other grounds for the falling out, but experts familiar with immigration reform point to a number of recent developments which suggest he is preparing to work with Democrats on the issue in the new year.

Perhaps most significant is Boehner's appointment last week of a high-profile immigration expert, Becky Tallent, who previously worked for senator John McCain when he last tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform under President George W Bush.

“It seems very unlikely that Becky would have gone to work for the speaker on this unless there was a serious plan to move on this in the new year,” Ted Alden, an immigration specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Guardian.

There was a similar key switch of personnel at the White House on Friday, which came as it signals a new willingness to meet Boehner halfway on immigration reform when the House returns after Christmas.

Miguel Rodriguez, the director of legislative affairs who led Obama's efforts to get immigration reform through the Senate, became the first senior White House official to lose his job this year when he was replaced by congressional veteran Katie Beirne Fallon.

Democrats have hinted at important concessions on immigration in recent days, most noticeably when Obama said he was relaxed about a preference among House Republicans to vote on each piece of the reform package separately rather than adopt the single bill passed by the Senate.

And Democratic congressman Luis Gutiérrez, a key advocate of reform in the House, indicated his party may even be prepared to drop its desire to see a path toward full citizenship for undocumented immigrants, settling for basic legal status instead, in order to achieve a deal with Boehner.

“Some have suggested that the way you thread the needle for Republicans between the immigration reform the country wants, which includes a path to citizenship, and the Republican's number-one priority, which is opposing what President Obama is for, is to offer a compromise that includes something less than citizenship,” he told the Migration Policy Institute in Washington last week.

“I don't think this is a good idea because citizenship is important, but I don't think it is a big deal-breaker either.”

In another sign of an impending climbdown on the issue of full citizenship, or “amnesty” as Republicans refer to it, Gutiérrez added: “Democrats have to put policy ahead of politics. If we as a party go the route of what is best for us politically in the short run, there is very little incentive to resolve the immigration issue.”

Republican leaders, especially those with presidential ambitions, have said they are keen to show progress toward legalisation to counter a dramatic drop in the party's popularity among Latino voters, but are sceptical of moves that would add more potential Democratic voters to the voting roll if they were granted full citizenship.

The piecemeal approach to legislation favoured by the House could therefore allow Boehner to strip out more radical citizenship proposals in the Senate bill and keep enough moderates on board to live without his party's Tea Party hardliners.


Dan Roberts in Washington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
House Republicans set to vote for bipartisan budget bill
Vote scheduled for 5pm Thursday should allow Senate to pass legislation to ease sequester pressure before Christmas break

Dan Roberts in Washington and Dominic Rushe in New York

12, Dec, 2013 @4:58 PM

Article image
Democrats tell Obama: drop immigration reform to save Senate
Party officials have launched intense lobbying campaign to convince White House of the electoral damage the party could suffer if executive action carried out

Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts in Washington

05, Sep, 2014 @5:35 PM

Article image
Obama wary of fight with Republicans over Russia sanctions
GOP pushing for sanctions directed against senior Russian officials close to Putin as administration fears Iran repeat

Paul Lewis in Washington

04, Mar, 2014 @8:10 PM

Article image
Kerry warns Congress: sanctions threat endangers historic Iran nuclear deal
• Proposal for more further sanctions is 'gratuitous', Kerry says
• Influential house committee opposes agreement with Tehran

Paul Lewis in Washington

10, Dec, 2013 @9:48 PM

Article image
Obama stands firm on Bowe Bergdahl decision as backlash grows
'Proof-of-life' video shown to senators does little to quell criticism as president says it was his responsibility to save soldier's life

Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts in Washington

05, Jun, 2014 @6:25 PM

Article image
Senate confirms Janet Yellen as next chair of the Federal Reserve
Rand Paul among Republicans voting against but Yellen is confirmed as first woman to head US central bank

Dominic Rushe in New York

06, Jan, 2014 @11:24 PM

Article image
US midterm elections: Republicans could triumph – but it's not a sure thing
Eight Senate elections are crucial to determining the balance of US political power in 2014. Follow us as we visit the key states

Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts in Washington

10, Jun, 2014 @5:00 PM

Article image
The NSA bill got to the House at warp speed. Senators are our only hope | Trevor Timm
Trevor Timm: The USA Freedom Act got dumb and dumber, behind closed doors. So Congress might have to be Congress and hold it hostage

Trevor Timm

22, May, 2014 @12:14 PM

Article image
Republican State of the Union response shows off party's softer side
Cathy McMorris Rodgers delivers compassionate rebuttal to President Obama's speech but Tea Party reply takes sharper bite

Ed Pilkington in New York

29, Jan, 2014 @4:53 AM

Article image
Senate NSA critic urges Barack Obama to end bulk data collection now
Ron Wyden says 'president ought to make the transition right away' instead of waiting for Congress to pass legislation

Rory Carroll in Los Angeles

30, Mar, 2014 @6:43 PM