CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Scott Keyes
RACINE, Wisconsin — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been unable to avoid frustrated immigration advocates at two listening sessions in Wisconsin this week. On Wednesday, some audience members scoffed — and had to be hushed — when Ryan said that the federal government shutdown was partially to blame for House Republican inaction on immigration reform.
When a female advocate said she was despondent that the House hasn’t produced a bill and asked for a timetable for reform, Ryan said that House members had tried to get to that point last year, but “then we had a shutdown and it blew our calendar.” He emphasized that it wasn’t a matter of getting to a vote because “we can have as many votes as you want,” but that the issue is that Congressional members don’t trust that the law would “actually be enforced” by the President:
QUESTIONER: We want to get to a point where we can actually see a bill that you can vote on. So what can you do as a leader in the Republican party to move the conversation forward?
RYAN: The conversation I’m having with you is one that I had with my colleagues.
QUESTIONER: We want to see [the bill.] We’re losing hope.
RYAN: I get that you’re losing hope. We were trying to do this in October and then we had a shutdown and it blew our calendar and now here we are. … We’re disappointed too. What we’re trying to do is find consensus on these kinds of policies. This is what I think is the way to do this. We’re trying to get to enough consensus so that we get enough votes to move forward on this. That’s the kind of conversation that we’re having right now. [...]
[...] We want to be effective … We can have as many votes as you want, but the question is, is there a legislator that says ‘yes, this is a problem I agree and yes I think this is the solution and yes, I have confidence that this will all actually be enforced.’ We’re not there yet and that’s what we’re trying to work on.
QUESTIONER: So how can we help you to get there?
RYAN: You help me fine. It’s other members of Congress who need to understand that this isn’t an issue that’s going away.
In July 2013, Ryan wanted to bring a bill to the floor because “we won’t know if we have a majority until we vote on it… I believe what I’ve just laid out is something that a consensus of Republicans and Democrats can agree to.” Ryan’s office later issued a statement, which seemingly softened his comments however.
Ryan has done little to move the House towards consensus. Last month, Ryan praised the release of a document outlining immigration policies, but a mere week later, voiced doubt that the President would enforce border security measures before immigrants are granted “amnesty.” And just last week, Ryan helped to vote through two bills that would make it difficult for immigration officials to exercise enforcement discretion under the 2012 presidential initiative that grants temporary deportation reprieve and work authorization to some undocumented immigrants.
Other Republicans have used the government shutdown as a reason to shelve immigration reform as well. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that Obama’s behavior during the shutdown hurt Republican chances to “get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration,” while Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) argued that it was unrealistic to expect a party that can’t keep the government open to pass an immigration reform bill. “We’re not sure we can chew gum, let alone walk and chew gum, so let’s just chew gum for a while,” Cole said.