On Friday, two House Democratic leaders discussed the next steps in their push for an immigration overhaul with Los Angeles city and community leaders.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic congressman Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles visited City Hall, where they met with Mayor Eric Garcetti, immigrant advocates and others. In a meeting with reporters afterward, they detailed their likely strategy for trying to force a House vote on immigration.
It involves what's called a discharge petition, a procedural maneuver that would require 218 votes to succeed. If successful, it would force a vote on a pending Democratic-backed House immigration bill similar to the comprehensive bill approved last summer in the Senate, with a path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants, and eventually to U.S. citizenship.
While Republicans released a set of immigration reform "principles" in January outlining what they'd support, there's been little movement since. Pelosi and Becerra both said they felt confident they'd have at least the minimal Republican support needed for the petition to work.
"We only need 20 Republican votes," Pelosi said. "That's all. Out of over 200 votes that they have. We have to be positive. We have to be optimistic."
Some House Republicans who have otherwise expressed support for immigration reform have already said they won't go with the tactic, making its outcome uncertain.
But even if the petition itself doesn't work, Pelosi said, one thing it would do is put the ball back in the court of House Republicans, who would face pressure to act.
"Success with a discharge petition can be many things," she said. "We don't expect them to bring up that bill, but we expect them to bring up some bill. And we expect pressure on the members in the districts, where the voices of their constituents are hears and respected, will lead us to a bill."
The House GOP immigration principles outlined in January included border and interior enforcement components, as well as a path to legal status for many immigrants, but not citizenship; this was limited to young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. Some on the left indicated a willingness to compromise.
But shortly afterward, Republican House Speaker John Boehner put the brakes on further movement, stating that it would be unlikely for the House to pass an immigration overhaul this year because GOP lawmakers didn't trust the Obama administration to enforce the measures they passed.
About all that's moved in the House on the immigration front since is a bill that would take funding away from the "public advocate" position within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which just cleared the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee.
And it's unclear just what the White House would need to do to satisfy Boehner's need for trust. While President Obama has alienated conservatives with executive decisions like the creation of the deferred action program, which grants temporary legal status to young immigrants who qualify, he's also alienated immigrant advocates who criticize him for being too heavy-handed on enforcement.
The Obama administration has deported a record number of immigrants since Obama took office in 2009, which has led some advocates to nickname the president "deporter-in-chief." After National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguía, used the label during a speech recently, Obama defended his immigration record during a town hall meeting this week in Washington, D.C. He put the blame for inaction on Congress. From a Washington Post report:
"Since I ran for president, I've pushed for comprehensive immigration reform, and I will continue to push," Obama said. "I am the champion-in-chief of comprehensive immigration reform. But until Congress passes new laws, I am constrained in what I am able to do."
Many observers have by now written off the prospect of a broad immigration reform plan passing Congress in 2014. But asked on Friday, Becerra said he thinks there's still hope.
"We know the votes are there, it's more the matter of getting a vote, being permitted to vote," Becerra said. "There is no reason why it can't get done tomorrow, there is no reason why it can't get done this year."