WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jim Cooper wants Congress to get off the dime when it comes to immigration reform.
Cooper, D-Nashville, not only co-sponsors a major immigration proposal, he recently signed a discharge petition to try and force House Republican leaders to move it out of multiple committees -- several have jurisdiction over parts of it -- onto the House floor for a vote.
He is one of 191 Democrats to sign the petition so far. However, it needs the backing of more than half of the members of the House -- at least 218 -- to take effect. And even if all 199 House Democrats go along, at least 19 Republicans would have to sign on, something seen as difficult, especially in an election year.
Ironically, the bill Cooper supports -- HR 15 -- resembles in many ways the immigration legislation Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander helped pass in the Senate last summer, by a large margin.
"The House should be allowed to vote on the Senate bill, because it has the best chance to move forward, but the Republican leadership has not agreed to that," Cooper said in a statement.
"There are several ways to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, and I also support the House bill. Both are serious efforts, and it's time to find common ground."
Yet the political fault lines leave many mystified.
"In a lot of ways, people are puzzled that Congress can't seem to push forward on this," said Mary Giovagnoli, spokesman for the Immigration Policy Center, an organization supporting immigration reform.
Eben Cathey of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition added: "Immigrant families are hopeful that a discharge petition will produce a vote on immigration reform, because in the meantime the Obama Administration continues to deport 1,000 people each day. Whether it be HR 15 or some kind of action by the president, immigrant families need relief today. No one in Washington is off the hook."
While the 2012 elections showed major Republican shortcomings among Hispanics and other groups favoring broad changes in immigration law, the majority of House Republicans -- by most counts -- remain opposed.
Like their Republican colleagues, GOP representatives from Tennessee saw the 2013 Senate measure, which provided a path to citizenship for almost 12 million undocumented immigrants, as an "amnesty bill."
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner, has sent mixed signals about the House tackling reform before the 2014 elections. Last week, The Wall Street Journal said Boehner recently told Republican contributors in Las Vegas he was "hell-bent" on getting something done this year.
Every time Boehner makes such a statement, "he gets heat from conservatives and backs off," said Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that opposes a path to citizenship for the undocumented.
But the evidence is clear, Dane said, that representatives of big business -- and its key advocate, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- want something like last year's Senate bill or HR 15.
He added that rank-and-file House Republicans have good reason to be wary of both bills. Dane said they would lead to many American workers losing their jobs to immigrants and would create millions of new Democratic voters.
"The GOP is coming to realize it is party suicide," he said, adding, "The Chamber of Commerce has no regard for the American worker."
But Giovagnoli of the Immigration Policy Center said, "The general direction of HR 15 is pretty solid."
The main difference from last year's Senate bill, she said, is the removal of Corker's proposals for new fencing, added personnel and enhanced sensing technology to beef up border security, provisions he added to win over Senate hardliners.
What Corker proposed, Giovagnoli said, amounted to "militarization of the border" and "was over the top."