Migrant bill push may shake GOP

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WASHINGTON -- A push to bring immigration legislation to the House floor -- led by an unusual coalition of business executives, prominent conservatives and evangelical leaders -- threatens to create another schism in the Republican Party and could have a noticeable effect on campaign contributions in advance of midterm elections.

Several Republican executives and donors who are part of a lobbying blitz coming to Capitol Hill next week said they were considering withholding, or have decided to withhold, financial support to Republican lawmakers whom they believe are obstructing immigration progress.

"I respect people's views and concerns about the fact that we have a situation in the United States where we have millions of undocumented immigrants," said Florida lawyer Justin Sayfie, who said he had helped Mitt Romney raise more than $100,000 for his presidential campaign last year, in addition to helping other GOP candidates. "But we have what we have. This is October 2013. And the country will be better off if we fix it."

Capitol Hill has for months been the focus of immigration advocates, urging lawmakers to take up one of the four measures approved by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee. What is different about next week's lobbying blitz is that it will include about 600 mostly conservative leaders in business, agriculture and religion who will focus on 80 representatives from 40 states -- all Republicans.

The effort comes just weeks after House conservatives alienated many longtime supporters, including much of corporate America, by trying to block financing for President Barack Obama's health care law -- a move widely blamed for the government shutdown. The intraparty tension apparent in the budget standoff could resurface in the immigration fight, although the sides might not align in exactly the same way.

Sponsors of next week's event include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; National Immigration Forum; FWD.us, a political action group set up by Silicon Valley executives including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; and the Partnership for a New Economy, led by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and hotel magnate Bill Marriott Jr.

Pushing back against the pressure to act from within their own party, a core group of conservatives said in interviews this week that they would not be intimidated by corporate America or other outside parties, even though this time that includes farmers, evangelical leaders and some prominent conservatives.

"I care about the sovereignty of the United States of America and what it stands for, and not an open-door policy," said Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., one of several conservatives opposing all of the bills the House is considering.

Although House Republican leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, have expressed support for moving on their own immigration measure this year, given that the Senate has passed a comprehensive bill, the prospect for any legislation before year's end is uncertain. There is intense division within the party over the proposals under consideration, and some hard-line conservatives have made clear that they have no interest in advancing a key part of Mr. Obama's agenda.

Even some who support a measure to increase border security say they would not vote for such a bill, fearing that it could become a vehicle to grant citizenship to an estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally.

"We have seen the character of this president and the way that he does business," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, explaining why he would oppose any measure.

Looking to restart discussion on immigration after months where it was overshadowed by foreign policy crises and the budget dispute, Mr. Obama spoke Thursday at the White House, saying House Democrats and Republicans must unite to pass an immigration package. "Everybody wins here if we work together to get this done," he said.

The lawmakers who are the focus of next week's effort have expressed support for immigration legislation or a willingness to consider it, said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

Roy Beck, a founder of NumbersUSA, a group that opposes the Senate legislation, acknowledged in an interview that the push by conservatives -- evangelical leaders, in particular -- worried him somewhat, leading him this week to urge his million nationwide followers to step up calls and emails to Congress.

Backers of the effort estimated that about 30 House Republicans, such as Mr. King and Mr. Yoho, will not support immigration legislation under almost any circumstances. But they believe they can piece together a majority of the GOP caucus to pass certain bills, moving the debate to a committee of House and Senate negotiators, who could try to agree on a comprehensive package.

The contention centers on what to do with the illegal immigrants already in the country, which Democrats in both chambers say must be addressed in any final deal.

There have been hints of possible compromise. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., one of the House's more conservative members, said he could support "a path to status" for immigrants who are here illegally.

None of the measures approved by the Judiciary Committee, with GOP support, includes a legalization component. Republican Reps. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida have been working on legislation that includes a process by which immigrants here illegally could "get right with the law" and eventually become citizens.

But a growing number of Republicans privately say they see no political advantage for the party to move ahead on immigration legislation right now. They do not expect it to be a critical issue in the 2014 midterms -- in fact, some House Republicans may be even more reluctant to take a tough immigration vote during an election year -- and they say it simply needs to be dealt with before the 2016 presidential elections. Thus, they say, they are most optimistic about pushing through an overhaul in 2015.

"Doing nothing is not the answer," said retired banker Glenn McCall, a Republican National Committee leader from South Carolina, who will be in Washington as part of the lobbying event. "We have done that, and you can see where we are."

Idaho dairy farmer Terry Jones, who considers himself a Tea Party movement member and who will be in Washington next week, said he considered the legislation's passage urgent. "You wake up, and it is 25 degrees, and [you have] a cow that is giving birth, and you have 400 cows to milk that day -- and you don't have the help you need. That stinks," Mr. Jones said, citing a labor shortage he says could be eased through a new immigration law. "I bet not one of those legislators back there have been in that position."


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