After July 4 Recess, Immigration Is Still A Hot Topic

Congress returns to Capitol Hill this week with the House in a quandary about immigration overhaul. The Senate-passed bill is "Dead on Arrival," according to many House members, and they are considering a variety of alternatives.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

Many of you are returning to work after celebrating the Fourth of July, and so is Congress. The House is facing a quandary over immigration reform. A Senate-passed bill is dead on arrival, according to many House members and they're considering a variety of alternatives. Complicating matters is the decision by the Obama administration to delay implementation of some aspects of the health care law. Turns out that could also play into the immigration debate.

Joining us now is commentator Cokie Roberts. Cokie, welcome back.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, David. Good to be back with you.

GREENE: It's good to have you back. You've been on vacation. And then we heard a clip of your voice in Africa last week, at an event with the first lady. But we've missed you here on Mondays.

ROBERTS: Well, it was a fascinating trip but I'm always glad to talk to you, David.

GREENE: Yeah, I wanted to ask you this morning, the president - while he was in Africa last week - a key part of the federal health care law, it was announced, was postponed until after the 24th election. What kind of impact this is having?

ROBERTS: Well, Democrats are happy because it means that the part of the law which mandates that employers have to cover their workers - if they have more than 50 workers, a tough part of the law to enforce - that that won't go into effect until after they get through the next election cycle.

Republicans are happy because they think it allows them to refocus on a bill that, they continue to believe, is very unpopular. They have voted to repeal it 43 times. And that they get to say, look, it doesn't even matter which pass in Congress because the president might not even carry it out. And so, why should we be worrying about all these things that we have on our plate, particularly immigration reform, which is somewhat problematic for them.

GREENE: OK, everybody is happy it sounds like but it could change the immigration debate. And on that subject, I mean, the plan to fix the system just passed with a good number of Republican votes in the Senate. But things could be different in the House, why is that?

ROBERTS: Well, because they're very different bodies. The House members are coming back on Wednesday. The Republicans are holding a big conference to talk about this, and see what messages the members are coming back with and try to figure out where to go from there. House committees have passed, sort of, aspects of immigration reform. They could pass those in the House and then send all those various bills to conference, with the Senate committee.

There is a bipartisan group in the House that's been working on an immigration bill now for a very long time, and no one has seen that yet. But it could emerge still and maybe that could be passed.

But what you're not seeing, is any real sense of urgency on the part of the House leadership here. They might spend July doing spending bills, appropriations bills, and then see what they want to do about immigration.

GREENE: Why no sense of urgency? I mean President Obama is set to go campaigning for immigration reform. Even a lot of Republican supporters, I mean, the business community, evangelical groups are pushing for it. Why no pressure? Why is the House leadership not feeling pressure?

ROBERTS: Well, because they think their biggest job is to hold on to the one government body they control in Washington - the House of Representatives. If they lose that, they lose all power in Washington. And they're worried that the immigration bill could harm them there. They're just not sure that passing that bill will make it possible for them to have an easy hold on the House of Representatives; and that is their primary concern.

GREENE: Commentator Cokie Roberts, great to have you back. Look forward to talking to you a lot of Mondays in the near future.

ROBERTS: OK, David.

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