TIME republicans

House Mulls Healthcare and Immigration Push Ahead of Midterms

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers Interview
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers Scott Eells—Bloomberg/Getty Images

House Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers talks with TIME about what Republicans will do on some hot-button issues ahead of midterm elections in which polls show them enjoying a decisive advantage

Republicans are under pressure ahead of the midterm elections to detail how they’d replace Obamacare and what they would do on immigration reform—and now a top House GOP lawmaker is providing details as to what the party’s legislative blueprint will be as election season heats up.

Republicans might not have to do much. They have their strongest political hand at this point in a midterm cycle in two decades, according to a Pew Research/USA Today poll released Monday. Republicans lead in generic congressional match-ups against Democrats, 47% to 43%. Independent voters are leaning toward Republicans, 49% to 33%. And both President Barack Obama and his signature health care reform law are as unpopular as they’ve ever been.

But the election is still six months away and these numbers won’t stay frozen in place. Even if they do, the party needs to figure out its approach to these issues in the long run. So TIME sat down with House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers to ask her what’s coming.

On immigration reform, McMorris Rodgers said the House is considering a package of five-to-seven bills. Five have already been passed out of committee: border security, interior enforcement, visa reform, an expansion of the agricultural workers program, and e-Verify for employers. Two remain before the Judiciary Committee: a version of the DREAM Act, which would give immigrants brought here illegally as children a path to citizenship, and a bill that would find a solution for the rest of the undocumented workers in the U.S.—one most likely not involving a path to citizenship, which many Republicans deride as amnesty.

“It is important that we get immigration right,” McMorris Rodgers said. “It is important that we not find ourselves in the same situation 20-to-30 years from now.

Even if the House passes all seven of those bills this year, none of them would go to a conference committee with the comprehensive reform bill the Senate passed last year. House Speaker John Boehner has said he prefers a piecemeal approach to the issue, meaning the House-passed bills would go nowhere.

Ultimately, the House could easily pass the first five; it’s the final two that pose the biggest hurdles. Realistically, the last two would probably only make it out of committee if Republicans were doing so badly with Hispanic voters that they need a political shot in the arm, which isn’t looking likely at the moment. Whether it’s a package of five or seven, McMorris Rodgers said she belies the House will have a bill on the floor before the August recess.

On Obamacare, Republicans have begun to realize that just being against the law isn’t going to be enough. To that end, some GOP lawmakers have introduced replacement bills. House Republicans are also working on their on legislation. “Now that Obamacare’s been on the books for four years, it’s important that we are realistic about where we find ourselves today and how we are going to move forward,” McMorris Rodgers said

McMorris Rodgers co-chairs the Health, Oversight and Accountability Project, which has almost weekly produced legislation to repeal Obamacare, and/or mitigate some of its effects on various groups. “That’s been our focus but it is shifting now and there’s a desire by my colleagues and myself to communicate what is the way forward and to put together a package, whether it’s one bill or a package of bills, that we could point to to show the American people this is what we believe is a better way forward on health care,” McMorris Rodgers said.

But can a law that was enacted four years ago, has eight million enrollees and millions more anticipated by the time Obama leaves office realistically be repealed? McMorris Rodgers made news last week when she told the Spokesman-Review that the law won’t likely be repealed and that Republicans should focus on other issues. She walked back that sentiment in her interview with TIME, saying she still supports the full repeal of what she calls “a fundamentally flawed bill.”

And can it really be replaced? “We’ll see. It’s really up to the American people. We’ll see how the elections go this fall in 2014. It’s a big election, both in the House and the Senate,” McMorris Rodgers said. “ Certainly the numbers on Obamacare continue to come down, continue to slide.” McMorris Rodgers said a bill could be ready for a vote before the elections.

As they look at potentially taking back the Senate in November, Republicans are increasingly looking to legislate, rather than just block Democratic measures. But regardless of what happens in 2014, they’ll have to contend the President’s veto pen through 2016.

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