A bipartisan House group hammered out an
immigration-reform deal late Thursday after years of closed-door meetings and
last-minute brinksmanship from a top Democrat.
The final agreement, which could be drafted into legislation by June 1, came together after Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., dropped what sources said was a blanket objection to denying immigrants healthcare benefits after they become legalized as part of a pathway to citizenship.
The House members and their aides refused to discuss many particulars, although it's clear that portions of their bill are more conservative than the plan from the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The House plan would call for a citizenship path that lasts 15 years -- two years longer than the Senate version.
But it's not too conservative, either.
"It's pretty clear if we're going to pass legislation, it has to be bipartisan," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said.
"The reason this has been a long, arduous and difficult process -- again if I had drafted it myself it would have been different -- but the fact is you have to keep both parties on board."
In the final days, however, that effort was imperiled.
Though Republicans have had the most discomfort with the bill, the specter of partisanship started to arise from Becerra, sources said. Becerra wouldn't comment to a McClatchy reporter.
Becerra, a California representative, recently began resisting once-agreed upon deals and began making some public statements that made it appear as if he blamed Republicans for stalled talks, according to those familiar with the closed-door talks.
Becerra was the de facto representative of House Democratic leadership in the immigration working group. Becerra represents a district in California, home state of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader.
Regardless of who said what and when, it was clear that cracks in the once-united group were forming. The spirit of bipartisanship became strained. And that risked the entire immigration-reform deal in the U.S. House, and perhaps Congress.
The risks, and the politics, haven't gone away, either. Accusations are flying.
Republicans believe Becerra is trying to slow the House bill down to help Democratic leadership or even the White House pressure Republican House Speaker John Boehner into accepting the Democratic Senate's so-called Gang of Eight bill, which could be more liberal than a plan that passes the conservative House.
Democrats say Republicans are moving too far to the right to make the measure palatable to the Democrats in the House, whose support will be crucial because conservatives -- especially those from the Deep South -- are more likely to oppose any immigration-reform plan that has a pathway to citizenship.
Without naming names, Becerra's fellow Democrat, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, expressed a measure of concern that people from his own party could be trying to scuttle immigration reform, which has bedeviled Republicans.
"One of the greatest challenges to bipartisanship is the zeal for partisanship," Gutierrez said, calling on his colleagues to remember the just-ended elections.
"For me, Nov. 6 said stop picking winners and losers. Sit down at the table. Fix this immigration system," he said. "They didn't say we're voting for you
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