It's not Joe Heck who's holding up immigration reform


When I think of Republicans needlessly and despicably standing in the way of passing immigration reform, I don’t think of Nevada Rep. Joe Heck.

But from the grief he’s getting over the issue, you’d think Heck was, like George Wallace, standing in the doorway of the Capitol to block a bill.

First, Heck has declared he wants a bill passed. “I’m committed to getting it done this year. Joe Heck is committed to getting it done this year,” he said in July.

Second, Heck has signed on to the most important features of a Senate bill that passed with a bipartisan majority, including Nevada’s Republican junior U.S. Sen. Dean Heller. That includes a long pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living in the United States. Heck has even defended that position in town halls despite catcalls from fellow Republicans who dubbed the pathway amnesty. “For those who want to say this is amnesty, I say you’re wrong,” Heck said, also back in July. “It’s not amnesty.”

Third, Heck called out his own party’s leadership in particularly strong terms when he heard they might not take up the issue this year. “This is yet another example of the leadership vacuum in Washington that rightly has so many people frustrated with this dysfunctional Congress,” Heck said last month. “There is a clear, bipartisan consensus among House members that immigration reform is the right thing to do both for people in this country and for our economy.

“There are bills that have passed committee that could be brought to the floor next week, but the House Republican leadership may punt the issue until 2014 for political reasons,” Heck added. “That’s very disappointing. The American people, and my constituents, expect us to tackle these important issues, come together and get something done for the good of our country. It’s just a shame that won’t happen this year.”

In fact, it won’t. On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner confirmed that immigration reform isn’t happening this year.

And that continued a waterfall of outrage pouring down on Heck. He’s been slammed in ads from the Cost of Inaction campaign, which ask voters to call Heck and tell him to support immigration reform this year, which, of course, he already does.

He’s been targeted by Democratic congressional hopeful Erin Bilbray, who slammed him for opposing the Senate-passed bill. (Heck has said he objects to provisions allowing the government to waive border-security requirements a decade from now.) She called on him to co-sponsor a bill similar to the Senate legislation that’s been introduced in the House.

Fellow Rep. Steven Horsford attacked Heck at a news conference, challenging him to “show the Republican leadership and your constituents that words mean action. We will not allow members to just talk about support.”

And the AFL-CIO repeatedly has targeted Heck in news releases, saying he’s “broken his promise to deliver on immigration reform this year.” (Actually, he said he was committed to getting it done this year, not that it would actually happen, which is out of Heck’s control.) In another release, AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Danny Thompson says “we’ve seen nothing but canned statements in support of reform, with no real action.”

Such as? Even if Heck experienced a complete change of heart and suddenly backed the Senate bill, or the House alternative, it wouldn’t change anything. In the House, if the leadership won’t bring a bill to the floor, it’s not moving. And Heck has already called out his own party’s leadership in strikingly stark terms.

There’s no doubt people are frustrated with Republicans who are stalling progress on this issue in the House. (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said flatly, “I mean, this House of Representatives might just as well not exist. They don’t do anything.”) Even if there’s a political strategy to wait until next year’s election season to pass immigration reform, it’s still inexcusable to delay action.

But it appears that among the chorus of frustrated people is one Joe Heck of Nevada, who’s done virtually everything a sophomore member of the House can do to get legislation passed.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.