Tomorrow House Republicans will kibbitz about possible ways forward on immigration reform. They’ll gather en masse, and anyone who has an idea will be allowed to toss it out there.
Today there was less of an agenda. Republicans returned from recess, talked, and left a meeting with a new strategy book titled “Fighting Washington for All Americans.” I singled out a few of the remaining members whose districts swing back and forth and asked if they felt the need to pass an immigration bill along the lines of the one that passed the Senate.
“I didn’t hear a whole lot about immigration last week,” said Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, whose post-gerrymander Pennsylvania seat voted for Romney over Obama by a mere 0.1 percentage points. “When the question does come up, I think everybody wants to hear a better, fairer system, one that enforces current laws and secures the border but provides an opportunity for people who want to come here. You know, secure the border, require English as the language of our country, certainly of the governmental process, and be fair to everybody.”
What did voters think of the Senate bill? “I’ve heard mostly opposition,” said Fitzpatrick. “People are saying, you’re spending a lot of money on border security without a plan. Securing the border also means enforcement of the current visa system—making certain that USCIS tracks those who are here on visitor visas or student visas, and when they expire, those individuals comply with the law. Also, people are still mainly concerned with the state of the economy and government spending.”
I posed the same question to Rep. Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican whose district gave 50.1 percent of the vote to Obama-Biden. He’d won media plaudits when he advocated a background checks-driven gun bill in the House—an idea that went nowhere. But he wasn’t rushing to back an immigration bill.
“The Senate bill, on the face of it, is not an acceptable option,” he said. “And it isn’t to me personally. Some of it has to do with timing—the timing of the enforcement aspect of securing the border. The American people have, I think, a skeptical view of the claims that this would occur. The only acceptable mechanism, to me, would have to be that everything must be in place before any significant steps were taken.”
There was no sense, in these brief conversations, that killing immigration reform posed any political risk. “It needs to be addressed,” said Fitzpatrick, “but I’m comfortable with my record.”