Obstacles in the House of Representatives to expanding background checks for gun buyers may be enough to scuttle an initiative that President Barack Obama has pressed in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings.
They also could sidetrack a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. that the president is seeking. While opinion polls show the public strongly supports both, opposition within the House may be insurmountable.
Because of the bipartisan nature of talks under way on an immigration rewrite in both chambers, and the Republican Party’s need to re-engage with Hispanic voters who backed Obama in November, immigration revisions may stand a stronger chance than gun control. Still, as Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, puts it: “The House is not going to be steamrolled by the Senate.” And even in the Senate, a gun bill isn’t assured of passage.
“You’re making a big assumption that there’s a bill that actually has bipartisan support at the end of the day,” Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican close to House Speaker John Boehner, said in an interview. “I don’t think you can conclude that in any way, shape or form.”
House Republicans say the Senate’s vote last week to move forward with a gun measure and the introduction this week of the broadest rewrite of immigration policy in almost 30 years won’t serve as the prod that senators and advocates say it will for the House to act.
The Senate voted April 11 to advance an expansion of background checks to debate this week, and a bipartisan group of eight senators plans to unveil immigration legislation tomorrow, Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” program.
“I’m optimistic about it,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican in the group offering the immigration plan.
“This bill does three things that are fundamentally important for our country,” Rubio said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It modernizes our legal immigration system – something we need to do no matter what. It puts in place the toughest enforcement measures in the history of the United States, potentially in the world. And it once and for all deals with the issue of those that are here illegally, but does so in a way that is fair and compassionate.”
While several Senate Republicans, including some representing states crucial in national elections, have signaled support for both measures, the House includes a core of anti big-government lawmakers not always swayed by leaders.
Statements by House leaders and rank-and-file members point to a long and bumpy path to votes on gun safety in the lower chamber. They predict hours of hearings in committees and, if a bill survives that stage, members will get the chance to debate and change it on the House floor, offering the National Rifle Association repeated chances to alter or kill it.
“We have to get through our own deliberation process,” Representative James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview. “This is not: ‘The Senate votes on it the next Thursday, and we pick it up the next Monday.’” Lankford said he expects the House “to take up from scratch our own solutions rather than just take a Senate bill.”
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters last week in Washington that he can’t make a “blanket” commitment to bring a gun-safety measure to the floor if the Senate passes it.
“I want this to go through regular order, and I want the Judiciary Committee to take the time to look at” whatever the Senate produces, he said at a news conference the day the Senate voted to advance the gun bill. The members, he said, will “make their determination.”
Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said April 10 that Republicans “do intend to address the issue, but how exactly we’ll do it has not yet been determined.” In February, the Virginia Republican said he opposed expanded background checks and that his committee wouldn’t hold hearings on the proposal.
South Dakota Senator John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, said in an interview that “Boehner’s strategy right now is to see what can pass the Senate, figure out what the traffic can bear in the Senate.”
Thune added: “The fact that there is some activity in the Senate on some issues and some things that are going to get passed would enhance their likelihood of passage in the House, and I think it probably strengthens Speaker Boehner’s hand if there is legislation that comes through the Senate and gets big votes and lot of Republicans supporting it.”
Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said the House won’t “automatically” accept what the Senate does.
“It would be hypocritical for us not to look at their legislation when it comes over here,” he said. “I would expect more likely that we would pass our own bills. The pressure is to find common ground.”
A Quinnipiac University (78104MF) poll released Feb. 7 found more than nine in 10 Americans support universal background checks for gun-buyers. Almost two-thirds of Americans, 64 percent, support a citizenship path for the undocumented, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted April 5-8.
The Republican Party has focused on another survey: The exit-polling in the November election showing 71 percent of the nation’s Hispanic voters backed Obama.
The immigration revisions also are coming from bipartisan groups in the Senate and House, with members attempting to address concerns within their parties before introduction. The House’s group could propose its plan later this month.
“We’ve made a promise to each other we would not go into the details until we’re ready to launch our bill, but we will have a bill and we’ll have one soon,” Representative John Carter, a Texas Republican and member of the House group, said today on MSNBC.
South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate immigration group, said “the politics in the House have changed” on immigration. “You’ve got some really serious members, Republicans and Democrats, in the House,” Graham said. “They’re putting together a package that would be good.”
Cole and Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican, predicted that while immigration revisions would catch steam in the House, gun safety could languish there.
The key to public support for a citizenship path is requiring the undocumented to learn English, pay back taxes and “get in line behind everybody else,” all of which will be elements of the Senate proposal, said Arizona’s John McCain, another Republican member of the Senate group.
“That’s the fairness part that appeals to people,” he told reporters. “They want the issue resolved, but they don’t want instant citizenship as a reward for acting illegally.”
For all the movement that the Senate is showing on guns and immigration this week, Bonjean notes that Boehner is going to allow “the legislative process to work its will in the House, meaning that these bills would go through the committees. That would likely slow down the momentum.”
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