“The best place to be in public life is voting ‘no’ on something that passes,” said Peter Roskam, the Illinois Republican and chief deputy whip in the House of Representatives. “Right? Because you go to everybody, the people who were opposed to it, you say, ‘Well, I was opposed to it.’ The people who were in favor of it, you say, ‘It wasn’t good enough.’ Voting no on something that passes is a very good life.”

Roskam, speaking with reporters at a Thursday morning breakfast sponsored by National Review, offered this dose of political realism when asked about the future of immigration reform after the Senate package passes, as it is expected to do sometime Thursday. His point was that the larger and more complex a Senate bill on immigration is, the easier it is for House Republicans to reject it. The House’s solution, Roskam explained, is to pass elements of immigration reform in smaller components, beginning with a measure to enforce the border.

“Clearly, where our conference is is all about trying to deal with a secure border. Once there’s a level of confidence on a secure border, then you can begin to move forward on these other elements, and so I say, break it down,” Roskam said. “And I don’t think you have to make a decision on the totality of the Senate bill because the House doesn’t have the capacity to move it.”

Roskam admitted he hasn’t read the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill “chapter and verse” because he doesn’t expect to vote on it. Speaker John Boehner said earlier this week that the House would not be voting on the package, as currently constituted, if it passes the Senate. But Roskam, likely reflecting the view of the House Republican leadership, indicated that there is reason to pass something related to reforming the immigration system.

“From a growth point of view, there’s an incredible economic argument around it,” he said. “There’s a level of anxiety all the way around that the public has about it. This has been a nagging issue for a long time, and the public really does want to see a remedy. So I do think there’s a lot of interest and a lot of incentive.”

But there’s a political element to immigration as well, and while Roskam said he can’t give a “straight answer” on how the politics of immigration reform will play out, he repeatedly said that immigration is an issue that consistently “works” for the Obama White House. He suggested that by leaving the issue on the table for Obama will give the Democrats a bludgeon for which to hit House Republicans in the 2014 elections.

“Up until now, the immigration issue is an issue that’s been a powerful political tool for the White House, and are they willing to give that up for 2014 in order to have a bill?” Roskam pondered, adding that the president’s declining poll numbers and his defensive stance on the recent scandals leaves immigration as Obama’s best and most powerful political tool.

But asked later if he thought House Republicans were concerned that immigration reform, if not passed, could be used against them, Roskam suggested the conference isn’t worried.

“I don’t think members have a fear of losing in 2014 based on that,” he said. Then he added: “I don’t think that’s likely.”

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