Harry Reid: Not Quitting on Immigration This Year

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Immigration reform sure looks dead in 2013. But the Senate’s top Democrat says he’s still pressing to get it done.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leveled criticism at his counterpart in the House, Speaker John Boehner, saying that he could easily bring up an immigration bill for a vote before the year is out.

“I am not giving up on this year,” Reid told a group of reporters from Hispanic media outlets on Monday.

The Senate already passed its version of immigration reform in June. So practically, there is not much Reid can do to convince the Republican-controlled House to act. But Reid’s goal is to keep political pressure on the GOP, and deflect it away from President Obama.

Reid said that if Boehner could swiftly bring up a bill like the House passed last Friday to stop health insurance policies from being canceled, he could do the same on immigration.

“We can do it in a week,” Reid said with regards to an immigration bill.

But Boehner has said he won’t allow an immigration bill to the floor without majority support of their own party. And he’s made it clear he won’t negotiate over the Senate’s bill, saying he wants the House to pass its own proposals.

So far, the full House hasn’t voted on any immigration bills. And Reid blamed the congressional gridlock on a faction of Tea Party lawmakers.

“The Tea Party is focused on being anti-government. They are anarchists, the Tea Party are modern-day anarchists,” he said. “Anything that is bad for government is good for them, that’s what they’re all about.”

But with immigration reform stalled, activists and some congressional Democrats have turned their focus to President Obama. They are asking the president to take executive action to halt deportations.

Last year, the president enacted a deportation relief program for young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. And the Obama administration recently announced it would stop deporting certain relatives of U.S. military servicemembers.

But Reid said executive action would not be sufficient, and that a comprehensive fix is needed.

“I do not believe this matter is solved without legislation,” he said.

Broadly, Reid said it would be a mistake to focus on what Obama could do, rather than what Congress can accomplish.

“I think it would be a mistake for us to take the pressure off of the House of Representatives,” he said. “The only way we can get this done is through comprehensive immigration reform.”

Reid Coy on Obamacare Fix

Reid was noncommittal about holding a vote on a Democratic bill that would force insurers to keep offering health plans they planned to cancel.

The Senate leader said he prefers to allow President Obama’s administrative fix to work its course before considering a bill in Congress.

“If that doesn’t do the trick, then we’ll take a look at it,” he said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) drafted the proposal in response to the uproar over the cancellation of some existing health insurance plans under the president’s signature healthcare law. It would allow people to keep their current plans, but also encourage them to sign up for new ones that meet the minimum requirements under Obamacare.

Reid said there would be no action on the proposal before Thanksgiving.

“Nothing is going to happen this week,” he said. “We are going to try to get home for Thanksgiving this week. We’ll take a look at it when we get back.”