WASHINGTON — A key Republican Illinois business leader who is pushing Congress for immigration reform is increasingly frustrated with the six GOP Illinois House members who are not making the issue a priority or supporting even bringing bills to the House floor for up-or-down votes anytime soon.
“I wish all of these people would be bolder and more definitive on what they are saying,” John Rowe told me. Rowe is the former Exelon Chairman, the co-chair of the bi-partisan Illinois Business Immigration Coalition and an influence in major GOP fundraising circles.
The coalition has been discussing immigration reform with the Illinois GOP members for months, in order to create GOP-sheltered space for those lawmakers to maneuver around because the issue is so politically charged.
“I believe they are heavily motivated by trying not to publicly commit themselves until they do so with leadership,” Rowe said, a reference to the team led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., the chief deputy whip, is part of that team.
“Do I fully approve of that? Of course not,” he said.
Rowe said he has talked about immigration with Rep. Paul Ryan R-Wis., the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and “I am confident both of them want to see a bill moved. But I can’t answer the question, ‘why the hell don’t they do it?’ I mean, I’m not feeling particularly patient at the moment. I consider this lemming-like in some ways. And we got to get over this and get it done.”
Immigration reform is once again stalled in the GOP-controlled House, just days after it seemed there may be some progress. The Democratic-run Senate passed a comprehensive measure in June 2013 with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., one of 14 Republican senators who voted yes.
Conservative groups threw up roadblocks after Boehner unveiled a draft memo on Jan. 30 of “guiding principles” to chart a path forward on immigration taking one-step-at-a-time “bite-size pieces.”
But by Thursday Boehner said nothing can be done for now because Republicans don’t trust President Barack Obama.
All 18 Illinois House members — 12 Democratic and 6 Republicans are in positions many of their colleagues envy. By now, they are immune from primary challenges — a leading reason given for GOP inaction on immigration. That’s because Illinois has the second-earliest primary in the nation — March 18, following the March 4 Texas vote.
Five of the six Illinois GOP congressional lawmakers have no re-election problems. Roskam, Randy Hultgren, Aaron Schock and John Shimkus have no primary opponents and Adam Kinzinger faces only a minor rival. These five have nominal Democratic opposition and will be re-elected in November. The only endangered Republican is Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.
Last week, former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., joined the coalition in Chicago to urge the House to act soon. Jumping into one of the most controversial aspects of immigration reform, Hastert also called for a path to citizenship. Boehner has not allowed up-or-down votes on even bite-sized measures if they may likely pass mainly with Democratic votes. Calling bills only if they have the support of the majority of the majority is called the Hastert Rule.
All the Illinois GOP lawmakers have said they want the piecemeal approach. None is pushing for anything soon. Piecemeal is “the best path forward in the House,” said Roskam spokesman Stephanie Kittredge.
Schock spokesman Mark Roman said Schock wants legislation that deals with “national security, employers, law-abiding immigrants or the guest workers who are needed in our economy.”
Davis spokesman Andew Flach said, “this single issue doesn’t define the relationship between the business community and members of the Illinois Republican Congressional Delegation, because we are working together every day on a wide variety of issues.”
Said Hultgren, “I don’t think we are avoiding the issue. I just don’t think there is a clear path forward on this.”
As for that trust issue, Shimkus spokesman Steven Tomaszewski said “a major concern is that this Administration would selective enforce provisions related to border security, just as they have selectively enforced provisions of the Affordable Care Act.”
On Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. on NBC’s “Meet the Press” had a great solution: “Let’s enact the law this year. But simply not let it actually start till 2017 after President Obama’s term is over.”