House GOP conservatives don’t believe Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost last year’s election because he failed to win over enough minority voters, as they look to tamp down growing GOP support for passing a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
“A number of us have sat back and watched with amazement how quickly some of our colleagues leaped to erroneous conclusions,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, at a pen and pad session with reporters.
Republicans and Democrats who support immigration reform believe that the Republican presidential primary — where Romney tacked to the right on immigration, calling for laws so inhospitable to illegal immigrants that they would “self deport” themselves — turned off minority voters who instead helped re-elect President Barack Obama with wins in crucial swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Virginia.
King appeared with other House Republicans, including Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., and their comments put them at odds with other House conservatives. That includes Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who plans to speak on the issue in Chicago on April 22 with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who has long supported reform.
“We are where we are with the momentum in the Republican Party,” King continued. “That momentum was started by people who wanted to make an excuse, I believe, for the election results that they had promised would be otherwise.”
His comments come as Republicans, including the Republican National Committee and libertarian stalwart Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have urged the party to embrace reform in order to remain competitive in future elections.
A bipartisan group of eight senators is drafting legislation that they will unveil as soon as this week, but more likely next, which is expected to include a path to citizenship — subject to confirmaing the border is secure and satisfying certain criteria — for those currently here illegally, streamline the existing immigration system, reduce the hiring of undocumented workers and create a guest worker program.
A bipartisan group in the House is also working on similar legislation.
With both groups seemingly close to producing legislation, King and the others believe it’s time for them to make their voices heard before the momentum becomes overwhelming.
“We’ve held our powder dry,” King said, but “decided its time to come forward now because we are seeing the inertia and we are concerned about having this wash over us and not have the opportunity for the constitutional conservatives in this country and in this Congress to have their voice heard.”
Besides King and Bachmann, the pen-and-pad was attended by Reps. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.; Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.; and Mo Brooks, Ala.
All made the case that border security should be the main priority rather than providing a path to legalization or citizenship.
“Why aren’t we just introducing one bill that says we need to fully secure the borders?” asked Bachmann.
Rohrabacher said that “what the leadership would like to shove down our throats in terms of immigration reform is bad policy and bad politics.”
He argued that it’s bad policy because it’s not what is best for the American people. It would take away jobs from U.S. citizens, and bids down the price of labor, he said. It would be bad politics because allowing illegal immigrants to one day become citizens and vote would only mint new Democratic voters.
“In the long run, the Republican party would be destroyed,” Rohrabacher said. “Within 10 years it means the demise of the Republican party as we are pushed out, even in California, to zero.”
He also called for self-deportation, similar to what Romney suggested.
Supporters of reform disagree. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the immigration group in the Senate, pointed to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday that showed 73 percent of Republicans support a path to citizenship when told that that pathway would require paying fines and back taxes, as well as passing a security-background check.
“They have to learn English, pay back taxes, get in line behind everybody else,” McCain said. “That is the fairness part that appeals to people. They want the issue resolved, but they don’t want instant citizenship as a reward for acting illegally. So I think American public opinion and Republican opinion is in favor as long as there are those provisions.”
“The other thing is that they believe that there will be enough border security that we will not have a third wave” of illegal immigration, McCain continued.
Gutierrez said there is a bipartisan deal to be had and that he will continue to reach out to conservatives to invite them to work on a proposal that can pass the House.
“I think the American public is going to be behind us on this issue,” Gutierrez said. “I am going to continue to work to outreach to them to see if we can’t have them join this movement for fairness and justice for immigrants.”
Gutierrez noted that Republican conservatives Ryan and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, are both looking on board with tackling the issue.
“On April 22 Mr. Ryan is going to be in Chicago and he is going to share a podium with me, we are going to give our views on the future and we are going to lay them out for the American people,” Gutierrez said. “And he’s a pretty conservative Republican, if you ask me.”