The sour topic here at “The Sweetest Place on Earth” is immigration.
In Hershey, Pa., at the Republicans’ first dual-chamber retreat in 10 years, conservative and moderate members debated the right strategy to protest the president’s recent executive actions deferring deportations for up to five million immigrants who have come to the country illegally.
“I think we’ve not handled the [immigration] issue well,” said California Rep. Jeff Denham, who voted against a GOP amendment this week that would roll back the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has temporarily deferred deportation for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the country as children.
“Just throwing DACA out there without having a reform bill I think brings great concern not only from the Senate colleagues I talked to but from the folks in my district I’ve talked to,” he said.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of the GOP leadership, reminded reporters that the “magic number” in the Senate is 60 when asked how the chamber would consider a House bill passed Wednesday that ties the immigration fight to funding the Department of Homeland Security past its Feb. 27 deadline. While House and Senate Republicans have the “same goals” on reining in Obama, Thune said that there “may be different ways and approaches to this issue.”
Meanwhile, House conservatives are proud of the bill passed in their chamber this week, which would not only negate the president’s November immigration executive actions, but also several others going back years, including DACA. Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon said that the House has a “very, very united front” on its immigration bill. He said that the overall message he is getting from leadership is "we're going to work our will."
"We're going to work our will and we're going to send it over and stop worrying on what can get to 60 out of the Senate," he said. "If we do that with enough time to respond then it's a good process."
Top Republican congressional leaders acknowledged the need to address a broken immigration system, but specifics past border security are hard to nail down. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul announced Thursday night that his committee will introduce "the most significant and toughest border security bill ever before Congress." Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged that the GOP needs a "a positive immigration plan for the country." House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said that more and more Congressmen are recognizing that Republicans can't fix issues like immigration unless it wins the White House and said it was "premature" to talk about immigration reform legislation that could pass this Congress, as the conference continues to develop its agenda.
"We are a country of immigrants," he said. "Immigration is good for America. It's important for jobs, for economic growth. It's just that we want to have legal immigration. We want to have the rule of law restored. We want to fix this broken immigration system. I think most members agree with that."
Other House and Senate party leaders acknowledged that Republicans have not yet agreed upon a strategy to fund DHS and oppose the president’s immigration actions. After the House passed its bill, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid tweeted that the “pointless, political” bill wouldn’t get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.
Ironically, as TPM and others have noted, the fee-funded program that processes deportation relief and work permits wouldn’t be nearly as affected in the case of a DHS shutdown as border security and deportation efforts—Republican priorities funded through the appropriations process.