WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Joe Heck ripped into leaders of his own party on Friday after reports circulated they might not bring up immigration bills for House votes.
“It’s extremely frustrating and very disappointing to hear reports that the House does not plan on voting on immigration reform legislation this year,” he said. “This is yet another example of the leadership vacuum in Washington that rightly has so many people frustrated with this dysfunctional Congress.”
Heck’s outburst comes as he has worked to embrace a friendly position on comprehensive immigration reform. The two-term lawmaker is seeking re-election in the 3rd Congressional District whose voting population is 14 percent Hispanic and about 13 percent Asian.
Over the summer, Heck spoke approvingly of granting a path to citizenship to 11 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, although he said he would oppose a Senate bill that contained that but also a number of other provisions. He also has been working on a version of the DREAM Act that would grant citizenship to young immigrants.
Heck’s approach has helped blunt attacks so far from Erin Bilbray, his Democratic opponent. But Bilbray said Friday that the new developments show Heck has little influence within the Republican Party.
“If Joe Heck can’t get something done with the leaders of his party, it’s time to send someone to Congress who can,” she said in a statement.
House Republican leaders have said they will not bring up the Senate bill they say is too far-reaching and complex. GOP-controlled committees have approved five smaller bills that address aspects of immigration although not the most controversial topic of citizenship.
But Politico reported Friday that Republican leaders are skeptical their preferred bills could gather enough GOP votes, and they also distrust President Barack Obama after having tangled with him over the government shutdown.
With 19 working days left in this year’s session, they are prepared to set the issue aside, the news site reported, although House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said publicly he would like to move forward.
“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 said in his statement
Heck spokesman Greg Lemon said the Nevadan has not independently confirmed the news reports but “he has had numerous conversations with House leaders about his desire to do something this year.”
Southern Nevada immigration activists were not so fast to applaud Heck for standing up to his leaders.
“It’s frustrating,” said Laura Martin, communications director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “People have gone to his office week by week, month by month asking him to say something to his leadership. He’s had a long time to get something going.”
In the absence of votes on immigration reform, Martin said the only vote Heck has on record is an unfriendly one from this summer to defund the Obama administration’s program to defer deportations.
Some activists demanded Heck show his commitment to immigration reform by co-sponsoring a reform bill written by House Democrats that is similar to the Senate version.
Lemon said that was doubtful, noting the Democratic bill is going nowhere.
“His co-sponsoring wouldn’t do anything to bring it up for a vote,” Lemon said. “He wants to see bills moved to the floor. Showing frustration with his own leadership is a telling sign of his commitment.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.