WASHINGTON -- A key California Republican is pushing back against House GOP leaders who say there is not enough time before Congress adjourns this year to consider immigration reform.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) will make his case to House Republicans behind closed doors Wednesday, trying to build support among lawmakers after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the No. 3 party leader, said last week the issue would have to wait until next year.
"This issue is not dead," Denham said Tuesday. "I think it's important to do it this year."
The battle between the California Republicans is another example of divisions within the GOP, which has been unable to devise a strategy for dealing with immigration.
GOP elders have nudged the party toward the immigration debate as a way to improve deteriorating relations with Latino voters, who largely shunned the party in the last election. A recent USC/Los Angeles Times poll confirmed that California Latinos were far more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.
But many rank-and-file Republican lawmakers reject the immigration overhaul passed by the Senate, particularly a provision that creates a route to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living the U.S. without legal status. These Republicans are wary of wading into the issue, fearful it will weaken them in primary challenges from the right flank if they appear too soft on immigrants who are here without documentation.
McCarthy, the GOP whip responsible for counting the votes needed to pass legislation, sees a tough road ahead in the two work weeks remaining on the House calendar before the end of the year.
Denham, though, represents a quiet but growing group of House Republicans who have come out in favor of the overhaul, particularly the citizenship provisions.
Immigration advocates, with the support of religious leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are blanketing Capitol Hill this week with daily events to pressure House lawmakers to act.