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The Struggle to Define the Immigration Debate

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Gohmert, left, and King held a news conference Tuesday to outline their problems with the Senate’s bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

Rep. Steve King is confident that House GOP leaders will take the side of the naysayers when it comes to any overhaul of immigration laws.

“If they’re not on our side, I’d say they’re convertible,” the Iowa Republican said Tuesday, when asked whether House GOP leadership and Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., were at all receptive to the demands of King’s informal group to prevent the House from taking up what it calls the Senate’s “amnesty bill.”

“We have a gang of millions behind us,” Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, told reporters, referring to a rising tide of public support for their position.

But GOP forces pushing for an immigration rewrite appear to have to gained strength in recent weeks. After all, the strongest opposition to an anti-immigration rewrite Heritage Foundation report came from fellow GOP activists and high-ranking House Republicans, including Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

And last week, the controversy over the report and its authors led to the resignation of Heritage researcher Jason Richwine, whose previous writings were described by critics as “racist.”

And even as King and other House lawmakers were touting their strength, the Senate Judiciary Committee was handing defeat to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who has made the demise of the Senate bill something of a personal crusade.

Indeed, King’s and Stockman’s confidence that their band of immigration overhaul opponents can sway GOP leaders is complicated by the competing elements in their own party that want to pass immigration changes, in part 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 the King, Stockman and others 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 the GOP, 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 both sides leverage the rhetoric of the immigration debate.

On Tuesday, members of King’s “gang of six” spoke in glowing terms about the documented Latino immigrants in their districts who are law-abiding, hardworking 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 they said was designed to win the affection of Latino voters and build up the Democratic voting base with newly legalized immigrants.

“They’re seeking to create a new voting bloc by calling us racist,” King said.

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