published Monday, July 1st, 2013

U.S. House declares immigration bill 'dead on arrival'


by Chris Carroll
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington.
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WASHINGTON — Heard all about U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's efforts on immigration reform?

As the path-to-citizenship debate shifts to the House, don't count on anything near the same level of passion among the former Chattanooga mayor's fellow Tennessee Republicans. All seven issued harsh statements or stayed mum on the question of 11 million undocumented immigrants already in America.

"The Senate amnesty bill is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives," U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn said bluntly, hours after the Senate passed its reform bill by a margin of 68-32. "One of the great lessons we learned from Obamacare is that passing comprehensive reform packages creates more problems than they solve."

No one minced words. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, of Jasper, said he'll "fight to make sure this bill never reaches the floor."

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, of Ooltewah, avoided discussion of the Senate bill altogether.

"The House is working on legislation, and I look forward to reviewing it when it comes to the floor," he said.

Their sentiment reflects House leadership's view. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said explicitly Thursday that his conference would ignore the Senate bill, introduce its own legislation and follow a piecemeal approach.

The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" there can be no "special pathway to citizenship" for those in the United States illegally, The Associated Press reported.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said his committee members have been working on bills that address individual concerns but have not written a comprehensive proposal to match the Senate's effort.

He said a pathway to legal standing, similar to immigrants who have green cards, could be an option, according to the AP.

Tennessee Republicans are concerned for border security, despite Corker's claim that his crucial amendment essentially "militarizes" America's southern margin while providing a 13-year path to citizenship.

As Senate Republicans fretted about border security and enforcement triggers last month, Sens. Corker and John Hoeven of North Dakota introduced a proposal that provides about $40 billion toward border security over the next decade. Their amendment was cobbled into the bill and funds 20,000 Border Patrol agents, 700 miles of fencing and aerial drones to monitor activity.

"This is the toughest border security measure to ever pass the Senate, and from economic, national security, deficit-reduction and moral standpoints, it's the right thing to do," Corker said. "Passage of this bill gets us one step closer to securing our border in a dramatic way and to solving the immigration problem that we have struggled with for decades."

Sixty-eight senators supported the overall bill, including 14 of 46 Republicans, among them Corker and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson voted no.

But the numbers and Corker's words made no difference to Tennessee conservatives in the lower chamber.

"I am opposed to the Senate bill because it includes a pathway to citizenship without sufficient protections to ensure our laws won't be broken in the future," said Rep. Phil Roe, a Republican from Johnson City.

In general, House Democrats are much more receptive to the Senate plan. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, said it's a "good place to start" the House debate.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that blocking a path to citizenship would bring electoral doom for Republicans looking to take back the White House after the 2016 elections, the AP reported. Republicans, she advised, should follow the Senate lead "if they ever want to win a presidential race," according to the AP.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-280-2025.

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