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Texas Senators Keep Their Distance From Immigration Bills

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Cruz, a tea party favorite, said he has concerns about the framework of immigration policy changes suggested by a group of eight senators.

“It’s a huge dilution of conservative principles and values and it’s not doing anything good for illegal immigrants,” Wright said of the political rationale to take on a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

Wright, a Republican delegate to the past two national party conventions, believes that rushing to address the immigration issue will result in “amnesty” for those who came here illegally. He prefers a piecemeal approach that begins with securing the border.

Wright said he expects to be disappointed by Cornyn, whom he sees as an establishment Republican.

“Cornyn is not looked at very favorably among the grass roots,” Wright said. He added that he expects Cornyn to face a primary challenger, but was unsure, at this point, if the challenge would be successful.

He said conservatives hope to find a candidate as successful as Cruz, who was elected in November after upsetting establishment Republican candidate David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor, in the GOP primary.

“I know [Cornyn] has a lot of support among the [GOP] establishment, but so did David Dewhurst and we were able to overcome that. I don’t know if we’ll be able to overcome it with Cornyn if we don’t get a great candidate like Ted Cruz,” Wright said.

One Texas GOP operative agreed that Cornyn could get a primary challenger, but doesn’t expect any serious threat.

“Cornyn has done a really good job making sure he and Cruz are on the same page,” said the operative. “Cruz is very adored by GOP primary electorate, more so than Cornyn. I’ve seen that in polling. ... [It] makes good political sense.”

Another Texas GOP political consultant said there is a segment of the party that wants Cornyn to be challenged, but the movement may be waning, which could help the senator retain his seat.

“When it comes to crazies Texas really is a whole different level,” the consultant said. “I’m not sure their thirst can be quenched. He’s preparing for somebody.”

But Wright said he is fairly confidant that Cruz will hew to conservative principles.

“At this point I am confident that Ted Cruz” will not disappoint conservatives, he said.

Mark P. Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University, said at the moment, Cornyn faces a relatively easy path to re-election. But, he noted, the immigration issue will play an important role in determining how easy.

Cornyn “could be potentially vulnerable if he is considered to be pro-amnesty” especially if Cruz doesn’t provide him cover on the issue, Jones said. “Given Cruz’s strong support among the grass roots here in Texas he would inoculate Cornyn to any potential attacks for supporting amnesty if he supported the same immigration reform plan,” Jones said.

Last summer, the Texas Republican Party adopted a state platform — called the “Texas Solution” — that supports a federal guest worker program to allow the undocumented to enter the country to work. But some Republicans, such as Wright, believe it amounts to amnesty.

Under the proposal, immigrants would have meet certain criteria to participate: pass a criminal background check, pay any immigration fines, carry private or workplace health insurance, waive government assistance, know English, pass a civics class and be subject to payroll taxes.

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