WASHINGTON—House Republican leaders Tuesday resisted the latest White House effort to move beyond the enforcement-only approach they have taken in rewriting immigration laws, emerging from a meeting with President Bush emphasizing their continued opposition to the broader approach the Senate is taking.
“The basic difference of opinion that we have seen on this issue between the House and Senate and the White House is real, it is honest, and it was exhibited at this meeting,” House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said.
His comments came as the Senate worked toward a final vote—expected Thursday—on its immigration bill. The remarks underscored that the divide between the two chambers would be difficult for legislators to bridge.
The House passed a bill several months ago that focused solely on improving border security and cracking down on the employment of illegal immigrants. The Senate has crafted a measure that, along with heightened enforcement measures, would establish a guest worker program and open a route to citizenship for most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Despite the spotlight the congressional debate has thrown on the immigration issue, the clash could mean that no measure will emerge for Bush to sign into law.
Illustrating that growing concern, senators who back a broad overhaul said they were worried that an informal House policy could thwart the push for a compromise bill.
In the past, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has blocked bills from coming to the chamber’s floor unless they were supported by a majority of Republicans. He has reiterated that he plans to follow the so-called majority of the majority guideline for immigration legislation.
As a result, a compromise that attracted enough backing from a combination of Republicans and Democrats to pass the 435-member House would be kept from the floor if it lacked the support of more than half of the chamber’s 231 GOP lawmakers.
“If Speaker Hastert insists on the ‘majority of the majority,’ [immigration reform] is dead,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday.
Like Boehner, Hastert gave little sign that he would be amenable to a final bill that included the Senate’s push for legalization provisions for illegal immigrants.
When asked after the White House meeting if he viewed those provisions as a “nonstarter,” Hastert replied, “I think the first thing we need to do is secure the borders.”