WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday blamed racial issues for the GOP's failure to act on comprehensive immigration legislation.
"I think race has something to do with the fact that they're not bringing up an immigration bill," the California Democrat told reporters at her regular weekly press conference. "I've heard them say to the Irish, 'If it were just you, this would be easy.'"
Pelosi was responding to a question about whether race factors into how Republicans deal with members of the Obama administration. She accused Republicans of being generally disrespectful to members of the administration and to women.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill later clarified that the reported GOP comment about the Irish was relayed to Pelosi by Irish immigration activists she'd met with.
Pelosi's comments come as frustration grows among immigration activists and the House's Democratic minority about the refusal of the GOP majority to act on a far-reaching immigration bill passed by the Senate last year. The Senate bill would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally and tighten border security.
Republicans remain wary of voting on the divisive issue, which could anger their core voters and undercut potential electoral gains in the November elections.
Nonetheless there are indications the House could take a small step on immigration. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters Thursday that supporters are making headway in garnering support for a bill to give young immigrants brought to the country illegally a path to resident status through the military.
McKeon said the chief supporter of the ENLIST Act, Rep. Jeff Denham, faces some procedural hurdles in making the legislation part of the annual defense policy bill but is rounding up votes for his effort. Adding it to the defense bill would expedite the immigration measure, though Denham would have to get the go-ahead from leadership and a vote of the full House.
"Nothing is ever easy," McKeon told a handful of reporters at a round table discussion. "He's working hard on his bill."
Several conservative lawmakers, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., among them, have vowed to fight any effort to add the Denham bill on immigration to the defense measure. The House is expected to consider the defense bill in May.
McKeon issued a statement last week saying the immigration measure wouldn't be in his core committee bill. However, that doesn't preclude an effort to force a vote in the full House on what might be the only immigration vote this election year.
McKeon said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., had made a pledge to Denham last year to help him. Denham abandoned an attempt last year to add his measure to the defense bill.
Denham's bill, which has the support of 47 Republicans and Democrats, would allow immigrants who were brought to this country on or before Dec. 31, 2011, and were younger than 15 years old to become legal, permanent residents — the first step toward citizenship — through honorable service in the military.