As the Senate Judiciary Committee continues to debate the immigration overhaul measure authored by the bipartisan "gang of eight," a more informal and more partisan "gang of six" gathered outside the Capitol to slam what it called an “amnesty bill.”
The cadre of House Republicans, led by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, held a Tuesday morning news conference to weigh in on how to address the nation’s population of undocumented immigrants.
The answer, group members said, is to start by securing the borders before passing any bill that attempts a comprehensive overhaul.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said that President Barack Obama wants to offer legal status to any immigrant without discretion and have that be the condition on which he agrees to secure the border.
“[It is] hypothetically like some random president saying, ‘Hey media, if you don’t write good stories, I’m gonna be going into your phone records on a regular basis until you start,’ just hypothetically, or like, ‘Hey groups, you gotta get off my back or I’m going to harass you with the IRS,’” Gohmert said referencing two scandals within President Barack Obama’s administration: one dealing with the Justice Department seizure of Associated Press phone records, and another involving the IRS inappropriately targeting applications from conservative organizations.
King said that any immigration overhaul bill should employ discretion to decide who is granted amnesty after previously being told to leave the country – not, as he put it, a “‘reapply because we didn’t really mean it’ clause.”
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., laid out another demand: limit the legalization of immigrants to only those that the fragile U.S. economy can support, and those who bring tangible job skills and financial resources.
King, who said he would choose Obama’s health care law over the immigration bill currently being considered in the Senate, was joined by some of the more conservative members of the rank and file: In addition to Gohmert and Brooks, he was flanked by Reps. John Fleming of Louisiana, Paul Gosar of Arizona and Steve Stockman of Texas. Another Texas Republican, Lamar Smith, and Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, were unable to attend Tuesday’s news conference.
Their message, King emphasized, was gaining traction outside their small group, and the number of “rule of law Republicans” was growing. Asked whether House GOP leadership and Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., were being at all receptive to their demands, King suggested they had influence.
“If they’re not on our side, I’d say they’re convertible,” he said.
“We have a gang of millions behind us,” Stockman said of the rising tide of public support for their position.
King’s confidence that they can sway their party leaders, however, is complicated by some of the competing elements in his own party that want to pass immigration changes to bolster the GOP's standing among Hispanic voters. To do that, GOP leaders in both chambers may have to make concessions of the sort that these six lawmakers have pledged to fight tooth and nail.
On the other hand, House Republican leaders have shown in the past that they are susceptible to mounting pressure from the far right of their party, especially from factions large enough to sink a bill if need be.
How King’s group of crusaders fares in the weeks ahead might also hang on how the Republican party, long-accused of being alienated from minority communities and Latinos in particular, leverages the rhetoric of the immigration debate.
On Tuesday, the six lawmakers spoke in glowing terms of the documented Latino immigrants in their districts who are law-abiding, hard-working and God-fearing.
The Senate’s immigration bill, Stockman said, is “fundamentally unfair to our Hispanic friends who follow the law.”
Members also disparaged Democrats for seeking to pass an immigration overhaul bill designed to win the affection of Latino voters and build their Democratic voting base with newly-legalized immigrants.
“They’re seeking to create a new voting bloc by calling us racist,” King said.
Gohmert, for the record, thinks any new immigrant voters will by and large register as Republicans.