Key Republicans Balk As Debate Erupts Over Immigration Bill In NDAA

Key members of the House Armed Services Committee are raising serious concerns about a quiet effort to insert immigration legislation into the Department of Defense authorization bill.

Asked if he supports the effort from sophomore Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) to insert his “ENLIST Act” into the “base” text of the National Defense Authorization Act, which could be on the House floor as early as next month, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) – a cosponsor of the stand-alone bill — said “no.”

“No, I think it should go through committee. It should go through committee as an amendment, or it should go through the subcommittees, or stand-alone on the floor. Through the normal process,” Hunter said.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), another member of the Armed Services panel, said “I'm opposed” to including the unrelated immigration bill, while a freshman GOP lawmaker, Rep. Paul Cook, said he was “worried” the effort would slow down the larger bill.

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), another House Armed Services member and top immigration hawk, ripped the proposal.

“This attempt to open a back door recruitment path to illegals is mind-boggling,” Fleming said, adding, “Our military would have to suspend the rule of law to ask those who are here illegally to take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, while those who have already served according to that oath could be facing unemployment.”

The issue came up in a planned meeting of Armed Services Committee members, with several committee members objecting to the plan. Late Wednesday, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), a key cosponsor of the bill because he is a high-profile conservative, withdrew his co-sponsorship, citing the effort to include the bill in the NDAA legislation. Duncan also said including the bill would cause him to oppose the NDAA legislation as well.

Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has yet to say publicly whether he will include the language in the bill. A committee aide said Wednesday McKeon hadn't committed to do so. 

Denham, a key ally of House Whip Kevin McCarthy who has been vigorously lobbying Armed Services members on the issue, is seeking to include text in the NDAA that would allow so-called DREAMers to obtain permanent legal residency by enlisting in the military.

Meanwhile, a Republican lawmaker said he would assist Denham's push in committee and the chair of the Democratic National Committee lit into anti-amnesty Republicans for opposing the effort on a conference call with reporters.

“My office has and will continue to work with you, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, House Leadership, and Rep. Jeff Denham in order to develop good enlistment policy for our military,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) said in a Thursday letter to Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “This type of policy change, which benefits our military, has a place in the NDAA and should be included.”

Coffman, who has his own version of the bill, is one of the most vulnerable House Republicans this election cycle, facing a well-funded Democratic opponent, Andrew Romanoff.

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) attacked conservative GOP Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Mo Brooks (R-AL) for questioning whether so-called DREAMers could loyally serve the U.S. military in exchange for amnesty.

“This rhetoric is insulting, unacceptable and harmful,” Wasserman Schultz said on a press conference call after reading quotes from Brooks and King to Breitbart News from a Wednesday article.

“These most recent comments by my Republican colleagues are a new low in Republicans’ attempts to insult Hispanics in the immigrant community and derail immigration reform,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz declined to answer a question from Wall Street Journal reporter Laura Meckler about whether Democrats would support adding the language in the NDAA, calling it a “rumor.”

Both Brooks and King fired back at in interviews, saying Wasserman Schultz doesn't care about American workers.

“Maybe Debbie Wasserman Schultz likes wearing blinders,” Brooks said. “I don’t. It is difficult enough for hardworking Americans to compete against illegal aliens for jobs in the private sector. Now, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her allies want to force American citizens to compete against illegal aliens for jobs in the military? That’s nuts.”

King told Breitbart News that Wasserman Schultz is trying to play the race card against Republicans.

“This was clearly a strategic effort for the Democrats to call Republican racists again,” King said. “No Republicans that I know of spoke to this issue referencing race in any way. They continue to bring race into this. I would remind you that Democrats have spent tens of millions of dollars to call Republicans racists and they can’t let that investment go unreturned so they’re going to drive wedges and try to get people to hate each other so that they can be the beneficiaries of the divisions that they are willfully and dishonestly creating.”

Coffman also criticized King by name.

“With all due respect, Steve King is dead wrong on the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act,” Coffman said in the statement. “Children who were brought into this country illegally through no fault of their own, and are willing to stand up and serve in the military, deserve the chance to earn citizenship. As a Marine combat veteran, I believe there is no higher expression of citizenship than serving our nation in uniform. This is a common sense reform that will strengthen our country and I call on Republicans to stand with Representative Denham and me in supporting it.”

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte's office declined to comment after the news about the effort was reported Wednesday. Asked about it as he was heading to the House floor Wednesday, Goodlatte said “we're working on it.”

The Virginia Republican remains a key figure in the debate, having killed a previous effort by Denham to secure a floor vote on an amendment with the proposal to the 2013 NDAA bill.

Brooks is circulating a letter in opposition to Denham's effort.

“The NDAA is not the place to push an immigration agenda that is unrelated to America’s national security needs and that unduly risks passage of the NDAA,” the letter said.


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