2 more GOP congressman exit immigration ‘Gang of Eight’

Franco Ordonez

The bipartisan group in the House of Representatives that’s working on comprehensive immigration restructuring is on the verge of collapse after two more Republican members left the so-called Gang of Eight. Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is now the group’s sole Republican.

Texas Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson announced that they were leaving because they don’t trust President Barack Obama to enforce any legislation they produce. Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho left in June over concerns about how health care benefits would be paid.

Carter and Johnson cited Obama’s handling of his health care law, accusing the president of changing provisions “with the stroke of a pen.” They also said he was cherry-picking parts of current immigration law to enforce. The practice, they said, has “irrevocably damaged our efforts of fixing our broken immigration system.”

“We want to be clear,” they said in a joint statement. “The problem is politics.”

The likely end of the group raises more questions about the chances of passing a comprehensive immigration package this year.

Members had been meeting in secret for years seeking to craft an immigration plan that could pass the Republican-led House. Last spring, the Gang of Eight looked as if it was on the verge of a historic agreement, but it fell into disarray over disagreements on health care policy. Those differences led to the departure of Labrador, the group’s leading conservative supporter.

Diaz-Balart said Friday that he shared the same concerns as his Republican colleagues but that he planned to continue to work with those on both sides of the aisle in search of a solution.

“I’ve long said that immigration reform will not be easy, but I’m continuing to find other avenues that will ultimately lead to a solution that the American people demand," Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., one of the most outspoken supporters of an immigration overhaul, acknowledged the group’s unraveling and said the group didn’t have the support of Republican House leadership.

“Republicans need to decide if they want to play politics to energize their base or solve problems to help their country,” he said.

By Franco Ordonez
McClatchy Washington Bureau