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February 12, 2016

Denham Leads GOP Immigration Crusade

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. (File Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republicans, take note: If you’ve ever hinted that you’d support a pathway to legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants, chances are Jeff Denham has you on his list and is coming to find you.

“I’ve got a card in my pocket of people I’m going to talk to on the floor each time I go down to vote,” the California Republican said in an interview with CQ Roll Call. “There are a lot of theories on how many Republicans we have out there. My job is to find those members.”

Denham is on a mission to prove that there’s substantial support within the House Republican Conference to move an immigration overhaul before the year’s end — one that includes a framework to provide citizenship for the millions of immigrants in the United States illegally.

It’s a contentious topic among Republicans that threatens the chances for any immigration legislation to pass the House in the 113th Congress. Influential lawmakers within the party have tried to persuade their colleagues to support an overhaul, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.

They haven’t been able to provide any real momentum since the Senate passed its immigration bill in July, and there’s no guarantee that Denham will be any more successful.

But he has done something the others haven’t. On Oct. 27, Denham became the first Republican co-sponsor of a comprehensive immigration overhaul measure sponsored by 185 Democrats. An amended version of the Senate-passed bill, HR 15 is being used as a tool to “dare” GOP leaders to schedule a floor vote.

Now, Denham is daring other members to join him.

“I’d like to have half a dozen members this week and next week sign onto the bill,” Denham told CQ Roll Call in an interview Tuesday evening. “I’d like to have some real momentum as soon as we come back [from recess] so we can start scheduling hearings. And then, the first part of December, I’d like to see this on the floor.”

He may sound overly ambitious, but if his co-sponsorship was designed to create more hospitable waters for fellow Republicans, it might actually be working. On Tuesday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida became the second GOP lawmaker to plant a flag of support for the Democrats’ bill; on Wednesday, Rep. David Valadao of California became the third.

“The more Republicans we can get on this, the more we can show that this is a bipartisan bill, the more it will elevate the issue and bring it to the floor in the short time we have left,” Denham said.

Though Denham is not new to the immigration debate, he has not actively driven the conversation before. He made his decision to come to the forefront with deliberateness, carefully controlling the rollout of his endorsement of the Democratic bill to achieve maximum exposure.

Denham’s “defining moment,” as he described it, was turning on the TV and seeing Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announce her party’s plans to introduce the Senate immigration bill in the House.

“I texted Kevin McCarthy right then,” Denham said of his longtime friend, a fellow California Republican who also happens to be the majority whip. “I said, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting to see done.’”

At that point, Denham approached Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., the bill’s lead sponsor. They discussed what changes could be made, and a timeline was established for Denham to announce his endorsement. He ultimately chose to do so the second Sunday after the end of the government shutdown, on the popular Univision Sunday show “Al Punto.”

On a personal level, it makes sense that Denham would want to play a role in passing an immigration fix this year, particularly one that’s comprehensive and addresses citizenship.

With a background as an almond farmer, he’s familiar with current law’s impact on the agriculture sector; as the husband of a Latina, he helped his father-in-law navigate the system to become a naturalized citizen. And Denham’s district is 40 percent Hispanic, making immigration a hot-button issue among his constituents.

It’s also a swing district, which has left Denham with a perpetual target on his back. He is currently fighting for re-election against a formidable Democratic challenger and staving off criticism in the local press for voting against legislation to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

While Garcia, on a recent conference call with reporters, lauded Denham’s “courage” in coming out first for the immigration bill, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dismissed his recent overtures as posturing.

“Congressman Denham is desperate to outrun his irresponsible record of opposing immigration reform, and his latest effort is a deathbed conversion that will be too little, too late as his leaders refuse to allow a vote on bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform,” said DCCC spokeswoman Emily Bittner. “For Californians who have been hoping for real solutions to our country’s problems, Congressman Denham’s nakedly political efforts will fail to get the job done.”

Denham is also combating cynicism from his colleagues who say that signing onto the Democrats’ bill is a fool’s errand, and that no number of Republican co-sponsors will sway Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to schedule a vote.

“The day I sign onto it is the day that you know that the other efforts, which are the efforts that could actually get passed, are just dead,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who is actively working to introduce immigration legislation of his own. “I think [if] you ask him, he’ll probably agree that bill doesn’t have a chance of becoming law, but I think it’s a demonstration of strong support for immigration reform.”

Denham rejected suggestions of opportunism — “Whether I supported this bill or not, I would have been attacked in the district,” he said — and insisted that his conversations with leaders have made it clear to him that they want to pass some immigration bill this year.

“Who’s to say that this bill will never go to the floor?” Denham asked. “A lot of things can happen.”

Correction: 1:29 p.m.
An earlier version of this post listed the wrong state for Rep. Joe Garcia. He is from Florida.

  • Karen

    Has he read the bill? All 1200 pages? Is he willing to take questions on the waiver, giveaways, new entitlement programs in it?

  • Sam D.

    Garcia is from Florida, not Texas.

  • Pamela

    What do you do with TRAITORS? The lowest form of life on earth? Just guess.


    • calvin42

      You people are stupid. How’s he a traitor? He’s served in the military. Have you? Explain how it’s amnesty when they have to pay fines, get background checks and pass tests? That’s what normal people call “earned.” You all probably hate the irs and ice, but you so how think having them running around rounding up people is not going to cost money and get the wrong people. You’re just racists. Admit it.

      • Ed Burns

        Serving in the Military doesn’t make him a saint or right! You’re rank right along with Traitor Denham. I don’t hate, but I do not like either ICE or IRS as they are not working for U.S. Citizens, and if you cannot figure out why, then you are “STUPID”!

      • 44219

        Benedict Arnold served in the army also

  • Ed Burns

    Traitor Denham… Whether the bill is passed by a bipartisan or not… it is not what the majority of American Citizens want. When are you assholes going to wake up to that FACT?

    • Bob Viering

      Ed, you might wish to check your facts. Poll after poll has shown very strong support for the Senate immigration reform bill. This is what the majority of Americans want.

      • Ed Burns

        Sorry Bob but I have never heard or read about a poll being in favor of any Shamnesty Bill.

        • Bob Viering

          Ed, do a search for “polls on immigration”. You will see that even Fox News on June 13, 2013 had a story, “Fox News Poll: Voters Want Immigration Reform”. In fact, in Rep. Denham’s district polls show 70+% in favor.

          How did you determine that this is not what American Citizens want? And, why is he a traitor for following the overwhelming wishes of America and even more his home district?

          • M_Becker

            Poll wording is the key to poll results. Every poll that favors the Senate bill leads people to assume that the border will be secured, that background checks will be run on illegals before they’re “legalized”, that they’ll pay “a fine and back taxes”, and that employers will pay back payroll taxes.

            Nothing could be further from the truth. The bill specifies a border security standard that cannot be met and when it isn’t the issue will be turned over to a group of governors who will consult on security. The final decision is left to the Secy of DHS and can’t be challenged.

            There’s no way on earth background check will be run on illegals. The executive order on “dreamers” requires a background check and INS isn’t doing them, by order of the administration.

            With respect to fines and back taxes, DHS has the ability, within the law, to waive all penalties.

            Then there’s the little problem of defining chain immigration, again, left to the sole discretion of DHS.

            The pollsters lay out a false premise and get the result they’re looking for. When people are informed of what the Senate bill really says and how it will really work, they come down heavily against it.

          • Dave Toledo

            So predictable, pedestrian of you. Stop peddling flawed push polls from amnetsy-pushing Fox.

            Start caring about jobless American workers like the Democrats used to (past tense).

      • Dave Toledo

        Wrong. Unbiased polls with neutral wording show Americans reject the flawed Senate mass amnesty bill.

        Sad that the Dems care so little about jobless American workers.

  • Forums4Justice

    @RepJeffDenham @RosLehtinen @RepDavidValadao

    VOTE THEM OUT IN 2014 #NoAmnesty

  • solotar

    Another Republican eager to give 30 million Mexicans the U.S. franchise. They don’t call it the Stupid Party for nothing.

  • Defend Liberty

    Since liberty cannot guarantee satisfaction, some people view the challenge of making their own way as more of a strain than an opportunity.

  • Defend Liberty

    In related video, Hussein Obama lies to the face of the American people about keeping their insurance and their doctor:

  • 44219

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