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House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte on Immigration Legislation, The House-Senate Conference, and the Hastert Rule

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My guest on Tuesday was Congressman Robert Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.  (The complete transcript is here.) After discussing the immigration reform legislative effort generally –and the fence, of course– the conversation turned to the prospect of a House-Senate conference and to the danger that the conference would produce a product acceptable to Democrats in the Senate but not to Republicans in the House yet capable of passing the House with Democrat votes in support of a less-th-majority of the House GOP caucus.  Here is what the Chairman said about that:

HH: Now earlier in my program, I was talking to former United States Senator Jon Kyl, also of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, and deeply involved in immigration. And he scored the possibility of a bill this year at 50/50. He really doesn’t see it happening, but he does say, eventually, when it goes to conference, everything can be rewritten. Bill Kristol and I are worried, Chairman Goodlatte, that the conference will get hijacked, and that the pressure will come to bear. How does the house of Representatives prevent its work, careful, deliberative work, from being hijacked by a conference committee?

BG: Well, here’s where the leadership in the House is obviously very, very important. And the Speaker and others in the leadership are aware that every single member of the Republican conference is asking that very question. What is this going to look like at the end of the day? We don’t want a bill that’s passed with a small number of Republicans and a lot or all the Democrats in the House voting for it, which is what happened with the Senate bill. 70% of the Republicans in the Senate voted against it. But Republicans are in the majority in the House. So we have a responsibility to pass a bill not just through the House, but a final product that can get a majority of the Republicans in the House supporting it. And the Speaker has acknowledged that, and he said that again just a few days ago. But that’s why this meeting on July 10th is so important, because we do have a problem here that needs to be fixed. And if you did it right, it would be well worth fixing. But if you do it wrong, you make the problem even worse. And that’s what members want to know. And that’s what we want to know when we meet with all of the members of the House Republican conference. What are they willing to do to solve this problem? And that’s why that meeting is so important. We won’t make any final decisions based on that meeting, but that will help us know what kind of consensus we can build around. And when once we have that, we should stick by that consensus, and not say oh, well, we’ll go this far, and then we’ll let Democrats carry it the rest of the way.

HH: Well, then, a last question, Mr. Chairman, what happens if you get that consensus, and let’s say the consensus is we want, you know, a thousand miles of fence, and we want E-verify, and we don’t want the Earned Income Tax Credit, whatever it is, but you get to conference, and then the whole media in the United States begins to pound on you guys and out comes a bill that a majority of the House Republicans don’t want? Do you think it can be stopped from getting to the floor, because every Democrat would be in favor of it?

BG: Yes, well, yes, and here’s why. First of all, it’s really important who the Speaker appoints to the conference. It’s really important that those people do their job in the conference. I would hope at chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I’d be one of them. It’s really important that members of the conference not sign a bill that doesn’t have the support of the significant majority of the Republicans in the House. And then finally, even if it does, the Speaker still controls the floor, and he can refuse to bring a bill to the floor that doesn’t have majority Republican support. And that’s what he committed to do just a few days ago. So I think we’ll hear more about that when we have this meeting on July 10th. The other thing is the timing of this. We should do this, and we should bring it to the floor, and we should bring it to conference when we have it right, not on the President’s timetable, or the Senate’s timetable. And that’s what we’re committed to do. I know there’s lots of intense interest in this issue, but it is far more important that we get it right than if we get it done quickly.


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