Republicans are caught between national and local pressures, and the stakes are high.
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Washington » How do you get a fractured House Republican caucus to back comprehensive immigration reform? Pressure. Lots and lots of pressure. At least that's been the working theory of reform supporters, who want to package a path to citizenship with increased border security and a streamlined visa program. That group includes conservative heavyweights from the Salt Lake Chamber to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly from Karl Rove's well-funded super PAC to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. But so far, House leaders appear far from impressed by the Senate's immigration bill, which received 68 votes, including the support of all Democrats and 14 Republicans. 'I couldn't care less,' said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who sits on two House committees Judiciary and Homeland Security that have debated immigration proposals. 'I don't know why that would affect my thinking on the issue.' And he isn't swayed by Hatch's decision to back the reform effort, either, noting that while one Utah senator voted yes last week, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, did not 'I know what I believe in,' Chaffetz said. ' I really couldn't give a hoot about what some other senators think. I'll listen closely to Senator Lee and Senator Hatch. I have great respect for both of them, and they see this a bit differently.' His reaction is hardly unique in the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 234-201. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, held a town-hall meeting in Lynchburg, Va., on Tuesday, when he knocked down the perception that the House GOP will eventually buckle and support a proposal they view skeptically. 'We shouldn't feel pressured by the Senate, the president or anyone else,' the Virginia Republican said, according to ABC News. 'Getting it right is more important than passing a bill.'Tough politics » That 'anyone else' might refer to Republican Party leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, both of whom are nervous about what the immigration issue and the coming votes could mean to the GOP's future. President Barack Obama received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2012 reelection, and some Republicans worry that the party will have a tough time reclaiming a decent share of that bloc if they come off as opposing immigration reform. But what is good politics on the national level doesn't necessarily translate to winning elections back home, particularly safe House seats where an incumbent could be vulnerable to a challenge from within his or her own party. 'It is the definition of a difficult vote,' said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. 'The House members are thinking, 'It is probably in my own self-interest if I vote no, but probably against my party's and my country's self-interest if I vote no.'' Jowers said he has 'evolved' to believe that 'an imperfect solution is better than what we have now, and the Senate bill is an imperfect solution.' With a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, Jowers sees no way to pass immigration reform that doesn't include a path to citizenship along with more enforcement measures. Hatch has made the same pitch, saying the time is now to solve this problem, and there is only one practical way to do it the Senate bill.A new path » But Goodlatte, Chaffetz and many House Republicans want to tackle the issue in chunks and have begun to do just that, focusing first on bills involving border security and revamping the temporary-worker program for highly skilled immigrants. It's unclear if they'll debate a proposal offering legal status to the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. The House speaker has repeatedly said he won't bring up a bill unless a majority of Republicans support it. That could be a tough threshold to reach. Take Chaffetz, for example, says former Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett. 'A member of the House who got himself elected on a strong anti-immigration reform pitch and is looking at re-election is going to examine his own position and not what his Senate colleague does.' Chaffetz, in a separate interview, also brought up his 2008 election, in which he ran as a candidate opposed to a citizenship path for undocumented immigrants. 'If a bill conies over here and has amnesty, I'm not going to be able to support it,' he said. 'It is that simple. It's partly what I was elected on.' That said, Chaffetz hasn't entirely ruled out voting for some path to citizenship depending on the details. He has also pledged support for bills aimed at fixing the legal immigration system. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, have also attempted to keep their options open, though Bishop has said he won't back a bill unless it includes his plan to allow federal agents access to protected wilderness along the border with Mexico. Organizing for reform » Utah's four House members have heard repeatedly from the state's religious leaders, business executives and immigration activists all urging them to follow Hatch's lead in supporting the Senate reform package. In the days before the Senate vote, 22 business organization took out a full-page advertisement in The Salt Lake Tribune touting their support for the Senate plan and thanking Hatch for his work on it. 'This is an issue that is truly important to the state of Utah, to the economy and to our citizens,' said Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber and a former state Senate president. The chamber organized the ad, which had the backing of Ski Utah, the Utah Manufacturers Association and the World Trade Center Utah, among others. 'This is a golden chance. If it is ever going to happen, it is going to happen now,' said Lew Cramer, president of the World Trade Center Utah, who noted his organization supports international trade of goods and labor. Cramer has met with Utah's federal representatives or their staffs and promises to continue to do so, arguing that the 'international implications' favor reform as do the practical considerations. 'The 11 million people here, or whatever it is, are not going to get on a bus and go home,' he said. Beattie argues Hatch's support of the bill at least opens the possibility that some of the state's House members may follow suit. 'If Hatch and Lee voted against it, I think it would have been more of a negative issue,' he said. 'I hope it helps the House members try to find their own way.' Jowers sees Hatch's stance as largely a wash when it conies to swaying Utah House members. 'I think Hatch's vote gives a little bit of cover for the Utah representatives, but they are also seeing some of the vitriol being spewed against Hatch because of that vote.' That includes a weeklong ad campaign funded by Numbers USA that questioned Hatch's motives for supporting the Senate bill. Numbers USA along with Heritage Action for America, one of the most influential conservative organizations, has consistently opposed immigration reform, saying it would take jobs away from Americans. The groups may target Republicans who support reform. Beattie gets frustrated at the suggestion that supporting an immigration overhaul may imperil Republicans. He notes that state lawmakers who championed enforcement- only immigration bills are no longer in office, having lost bids for higher positions or trying to win re-election. Instead, he suggests there could be a political retribution for those who appear to stand in the way of immigration reform. 'You better believe it can change a race,' he said. 'They should stand accountable. The overwhelming majority of the state of Utah wants an immigration bill passed, but they are not dictating what the bill should be.' Beattie was referring to a poll paid for by advocates of comprehensive reform that claimed 71 percent of Utahns supported the immigrationreform plan debated in Washington. Brigham Young University political scientist Adam Brown questioned the wording used in the survey, saying it 'almost feels more like a message-testing poll.' Chaffetz said he recently had breakfast with Beattie and will continue to meet with Utahns interested in discussing immigration reform. The one constant he has heard is that Congress must take some action. 'There is a universal cry to fix the immigration mess,' he firstname.lastname@example.org
Utah's House members on immigration
Rep. Jim Matheson, D • Keeping his options open, but has said he could back a comprehensive immigration proposal.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R • Says he will not support reform unless it allows U.S. Border Patrol agents full access to protected public lands on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R • Prefers to deal with immigration on a piecemeal basis and said he won't support 'amnesty.'
Rep. Chris Stewart, R • Opposes any path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, but would offer legal status.