WASHINGTON -- Two Republicans from Californias San Joaquin Valley are trying harder to break the partisan mold on immigration, amid broader challenges to their party and their own re-election prospects.
In a hands-across-the-aisle gesture that could foreshadow more to come, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., is becoming the first Republican to formally endorse a comprehensive immigration bill introduced by House Democrats. For the moment, the move makes Denham the sole GOP lawmaker to join House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and some 183 other Democratic co-sponsors.
I believe weve got to do everything we can to get this issue across, Denham said in an interview Friday. Weve been discussing this for well over a year. Now its time to get Congress to focus on this important issue.
The comprehensive 1,137-page House bill includes a pathway to legal status and, potentially, eventual U.S. citizenship for immigrants currently in this country without authorization. It also includes myriad other provisions, including border security measures, an agricultural worker program, employment verification and more.
Denham said that House Democrats have also agreed to add to the bill a measure hes previously introduced, permitting unauthorized immigrants to enlist in the military and earn legal status.
My goal is to make sure we look at all areas of immigration, and not just border security, Denham said.
Underscoring his higher profile, Denham was to appear in a bilingual interview Sunday on Univision, the widely viewed Spanish-language station.
Denhams endorsement of the bill identified with Democrats is his most emphatic statement yet on an issue thats divided his party, and it extends his prior declarations of support for comprehensive legislation. While Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., proclaimed Wednesday that there are 45 to 50 Republicans ready to vote for comprehensive immigration reform, dozens of other House Republicans vehemently oppose any bill providing what they call amnesty.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., representing a congressional district where Hispanics make up 72 percent of the population, has likewise been boosting his visibility on the immigration front. In July, he appeared with the outspokenly liberal Gutierrez at an immigration town hall meeting in Bakersfield. On Wednesday the two ideologically disparate lawmakers shared a Capitol Hill stage to support legislation offering U.S. citizenship to unauthorized immigrants who serve in the military.
This has been an interesting fight for me, Valadao said. Weve got to get this fixed.
The Senate passed its own version of a comprehensive immigration bill in late June by a 68-32 margin. Since then, Valadao noted, with some understatement, Weve had some distractions that have hindered House action.
In particular, the GOP-controlled House slogged through a federal government shutdown and debt-ceiling showdown that Republicans had originally hoped would force Democrats to yield ground on the health care law. The political morass ended up dividing Republican lawmakers instead of stalling Obamacare, with Denham ultimately voting against the bill to reopen the government, while Valadao voted for the government reopening.
Immigration and other long-stalled issues, like a farm bill, will now test the ability of lawmakers to move on post-shutdown and set aside any lingering distrust. They will also be maneuvering within a tight political calendar.