Tea Party Senators Prep for Immigration Battle

Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) now each appear to be positioning themselves in the fight against the push for the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill in much the same way the Senate’s Tea Party triumvirate knocked down the left’s push for new gun control legislation.

The three are joining Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in questioning every painstaking detail of the bill, and reframing the narrative that those in favor of the legislation have driven including the need for a “path to citizenship” for America’s at least 11 million illegal immigrants and that the bill is tough on securing the border. Together, the group is using every tool at its disposal in the Senate--public pressure, process disputes and aggressive oversight procedures, among others--to fight against the legislation.

They face an uphill battle, even more so than they did when fighting against new gun control legislation. This time around, right off the bat, the four Republicans in the Gang of Eight already back the bill. Also, they have been a little bit slower to coalesce against this bill because they have been so busy fighting gun control, and immigration reform in and of itself and if done differently is not something they oppose. They just oppose this bill because it does not do immigration reform the way they think it should be done.

In the U.S. Senate, a bipartisan group of eight senators --Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Michael Bennet (D-CO)-- and special interest groups met behind closed-doors for the past several months drafting legislation that would overhaul America’s immigration laws and legalize the country’s at least 11 million illegal immigrants before, if ever, securing the border.  During this time, for the most part, Sen. Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has stood as the one strong voice serving as the loyal opposition to the left’s and the mainstream media’s cheerleading the undisclosed terms of the then not-yet introduced bill.

But in the past two weeks since the Gang of Eight introduced its immigration bill, now that gun control is dead for the time being, Sens. Cruz, Lee and Paul are poised to join the battle against the 844-page bill in various capacities and appear to be positioning themselves to take the lead in knocking the bill down. 

In Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the bill over the past week, Cruz and Lee have voiced serious concerns with the legislation. For example, during his opening remarks at Monday’s marathon immigration hearing that lasted all day, Cruz announced his opposition to the notion of a “pathway to citizenship,” or a legalization process for America’s at least 11 million illegal immigrants, in any piece of legislation. “I think, if instead, the bill includes elements that are deeply divisive, and I don’t think there is any issue with this entire thing but there is more to this than a ‘path to citizenship’ for those who are here today,” Cruz said after laying out how he thinks any legislation passed should focus solely on border security and improving legal immigration. “In my view, any bill that insists upon that jeopardizes the likelihood of passing any immigration bill. So it is my hope that passing a bipartisan bill that addresses areas of common agreement; securing the border, improving legal immigration including agricultural workers to make sure we have workers who are here legally. I hope that that reform legislation will not be held hostage to an issue that is deeply, deeply divisive, namely a pathway to citizenship.”

Sen. Lee raised similar questions during Tuesday’s hearing with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, where he aggressively questioned the amount of power the bill would transfer to her. “Some of the questions that I have as I’ve read through this bill over the last few days relate to the amount of discretion you are given, you and your successors will be given over time, should this become law,” Lee said in his line of questioning of Napolitano.

While Paul is not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and therefore did not directly participate in the hearings, he has made his own massive impact on the immigration debate over the past week or so. In the wake of the Boston terror attacks, Paul wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking him to delay the immigration bill’s process so as Senators can make sure that national security concerns with regard to the country’s immigration system can be addressed:

“I believe that any real comprehensive immigration reform must implement strong national security protections,” Paul wrote to Reid. “The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system. If we don't use this debate as an opportunity to fix flaws in our current system, flaws made even more evident last week, then we will not be doing our jobs.”

“We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system,” Paul added. “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

In a recent Washington Times op-ed, too, Paul wrote that he is “committed to immigration reform that will secure the border, secure the vote and secure the taxpayers’ money from the welfare state.”

Then, during an interview with the Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity on his radio program last Wednesday, Hannity, with regard to the Gang of Eight border security provisions, told Paul: “I have zero faith it will be done and done right.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Paul answered.

Paul has argued that the Gang of Eight plan does not include any provisions like Motor Voter reform that would “secure the vote.”

And a forthcoming analysis from the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, which will be spearheaded by their former senate colleague Jim DeMint the new president of Heritage, is expected to detail how the Gang of Eight bill certainly does not “secure the taxpayers’ money from the welfare state,” as it will cost taxpayers trillions in new entitlement spending.

These conservative fighters appear to be focusing their energies on coalescing the Republican caucus to stand up and fight against the bill, too. Cruz declared that conservatives are “winning” in a surprise appearance at FreedomWorks this past week. “A month ago in Washington, D.C., guns was a done deal,” Cruz said. “The President was out there every day pounding on it, taking grieving moms and dads who tragically lost their babies and treating them like political props. I got to tell you, in Washington, the entire sentiment was ‘this can’t be stopped. This is a freight train, the momentum is with it, get out of the way.’ That was the entire conventional wisdom about four weeks ago.”

Cruz noted that then he, Paul and Lee got together to develop a strategy to stop the gun control blitz. They sent a “very short letter to Harry Reid,” Cruz noted, in it saying “we intend to filibuster any legislation that undermines the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

“The timing of that letter was important,” Cruz told the activists at FreedomWorks. “It was sent on the Friday before a two-week recess, which meant every senator was going home to his or her states. You had two weeks where that letter went out there and this is where you all made the difference. Because what happened in state after state after state is once that letter was out there, senators would go to their home states and they’d show up at a town hall and men and women from their states would stand up and say ‘hey, why aren’t you standing up for the Second Amendment? What’s wrong with you? If these guys are fighting, what are you doing?’”

Cruz went on to say that “there are few things that elected officials like less than getting heat from their constituents.”

“We had two weeks for the grassroots to get mobilized,” Cruz said.

Ironically, right now, as the immigration bill has replaced gun control as the hot-button issue, the Senate is heading into another recess, for one week. This fight is not shaping up exactly like the gun control fight--a lot of the opponents are taking a little longer to coalesce and fight back, and the Gang of Eights’ four Republicans have already thrown their support behind the bill.

As the American people their senators, time will only tell if the results will mirror those in the gun control debate.

One thing is for sure: Republican establishment senators are definitely feeling the heat from their constituents, as Cruz noted in that FreedomWorks speech.

“We’ve had probably five or six lunches with a bunch of Republican senators standing up and looking at Rand and Mike and me and yelling at us at the top of their lungs, I mean really upset, they said, ‘look, why did you do this? As a result of what you did, when I go home, my constituents are yelling at me that I got to stand on principle!’” Cruz told the conservative activists. “I’m really not making that up. I don’t even bother to argue with them. I just sort of let them yell and say, ‘look, you know, vote your conscience.’”


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