WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 has been relayed to Pelosi a number of times by Irish immigration activists she's 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 a contentious debate 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. One moderate Republican, Jeff Denham of California, said Thursday he's picking up support for his bill to give young immigrants brought to the country illegally a path to resident status through the military.
Denham, who hopes to make the legislation part of the annual defense policy bill, said he has met with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and "I'm working very closely with the leader on moving this either as an amendment or as a stand-alone bill."
Denham abandoned an attempt last year to add his measure to the defense bill, and at the time Cantor committed to working with him to bring it to a vote, Denham said.
"Last year I felt like I had the votes to pass it on the floor and was asked to withdraw it. I did. I will not do that this year," Denham said in an interview. "I am confident that I'll have the support of our conference as well as have bipartisan support."
Cantor aides did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Denham faces strong opposition from conservatives including Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who's warned that "all hell will break loose" if Denham tries to promote the measure.
The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., who's a co-sponsor of Denham's ENLIST Act, told reporters Thursday that Denham faces some procedural hurdles in making the legislation part of the defense bill but is rounding up votes for his effort. Adding it to the defense bill would expedite the immigration measure.
McKeon announced last week that the immigration measure wouldn't be in his core committee bill, but 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.
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.