It Wasn't Pretty, But It Worked: How the Right Won the Summer Immigration Battle
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nobody — even those among their ranks — thought it could happen, but House conservatives cracked GOP leadership to get almost everything they wanted out of a supplemental appropriations immigration bill before the Congress broke officially for recess.
Conservatives capitalized on a perfect storm of the new House GOP leadership team's inability to whip enough votes Thursday and the hardline stance of key conservatives. Their effort was aided by aggressive movement activists, the conservative media, and a national mood against President Barack Obama — which led many Americans to call their representatives demanding they come up with a solution to the ongoing crisis at the border.
And once the House GOP conference united on a plan, House Democrats went into overdrive Friday in an attempt to derail the new united GOP front.
It all started over a month ago, as the media and lawmakers sounded the alarm about an ongoing border crisis which found tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the United States, surrendering themselves to Border Patrol in hopes that their claims of a “credible fear” would end in them being allowed to stay in the U.S. legally.
Concerns about disease, gangs, and other safety threats spread like wildfire. President Obama avoided a trip to the border during a fundraising tour in Texas—despite pleas from Gov. Rick Perry and others that he visit.
The Obama administration early on pointed to a 2008 trafficking law which makes it difficult to remove unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico as a measure that could be changed to alleviate the crisis the influx — which placed substantial burdens on agency resources.
The calls for alterations to the 2008 law found Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) working with his Texas colleague Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) to draft a bill aimed at altering the 2008 law. Simultaneously, Speaker John Boehner created a working group headed by Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) to draft House recommendations and a bill that similarly ended up focusing on the 2008 law.
Meanwhile, Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) launched his own effort to demand that any piece of legislation that Congress considered focus not on the 2008 law, but on stopping the president prior and future planned executive amnesties for illegal aliens, most notably the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) crystallized Sessions’ argument — which was made in a letter the Alabamian hand-delivered to every member of Congress — into legislative form, offering a bill that that would end DACA and prevent the president from expanding it by using Congress’ power of the purse to defund such a program’s implementation. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the House companion of Cruz’s bill, and a core group of House conservatives rallied around Sessions’ call for any package to include such language heading into a heated brigade of brinksmanship.
When Granger introduced the Boehner working group’s recommendations, Sessions called the plan’s failure to mention President Obama at all — never mind his executive amnesty plans — an “institutional surrender” to Obama’s “planned illegality.”
A day or so later, Sessions issued a clarion call to the American people to melt the phone lines in Congress to stop the GOP leadership plan — which the people followed through on throughout this week.
Nevertheless, leadership trudged forward ignoring Sessions’, Cruz’s and other conservatives’ pleas for inclusion of anti-DACA language in any final package.
Incoming House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) assured worried members of the GOP establishment that he had the votes to secure passage of Boehner’s bill, and his allies even bragged about how much better a whip he was than incoming Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy because he could unite the party.
When the bill was introduced, Sessions and Cruz, and conservative groups like NumbersUSA, American Family Association, and Tea Party Patriots called on House members to oppose it. They also called on the American people to again phone their members of Congress, something the grassroots took up quickly to burn the phone lines into the Capitol.
The conservatives who held the line included Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and John Fleming (R-LA), among several others — including reportedly the majority of members from southern states like Alabama and Mississippi, who worked with Sessions to fight leadership’s original plan.
Boehner pulled the bill Thursday afternoon and, shortly thereafter, launched an effort to revive it — working with King, Bachmann, and others to strengthen the language in it to win back more support from members.
The new bills on Friday won the support of people like King and Bachmann.
“I’m very satisfied that the things that I offered that it takes to fix the bill have all been embraced with the exception of asylum and that got too complex to deal with now, but we’ll deal with it in the regular order process,” King said, adding that the bill was not entirely new legislation but adjusted to address the concerns of conservatives.
“This isn’t like its a new draft,” King said. “What this really is is a copy and paste or a cut and paste of existing language of existing amendments that are already there, Carter/Aderholt is one of them, it is a significant improvement and then the Blackburn language is a mirror of what I’ve done the last two years here in this Congress on the appropriations bill of DHS — last year the amendment passed with 224 votes, that is the whip check on the Blackburn bill today,” he said, adding he believes both bills will pass.”
Bachmann was similarly pleased with the the GOP’s new unity on the full immigration package. "I was a 'hell no,' and now I can be for this bill today," Bachmann told reporters.
“We completely gutted the bill, we changed the bill. It is nothing like it was yesterday,” Bachmann explained, saying the bill is "far better today than it was yesterday.”
She further credited the American people’s willingness to call their representatives for the turnaround.
“The voice of the commo-sense, reasonable American who just wants to have our border secure, who don't want to have all these inducements to bringing illegal foreign nationals into the country with great consequences for the people who live here — their voices were heard,” Bachmann said. “It's because they melted the phone lines in the last few days that everyone got together and we got a much better bill. One that I can easily get behind."
Center for Immigration Studies executive director Mark Krikorian wondered why GOP leadership didn't get behind this new strategy until after conservatives held the line demanding it. “The fact that they had to finally concede and adopt the tighter versions of both of those measures just reinforces the suspicion the base has about the Republican leadership,” Krikorian said. “That they are squishy on everything, that they want to go along to get along.”
But the new united GOP front against the Democrats’ immigration stance caused worry and chaos in the ranks on the left.
“A unified bold conservative alternative to the open borders radicals is the biggest threat to the Democrat Party,” conservative activist Daniel Horowitz, who fought aggressively on this matter, told Breitbart News. “Their extremism was on display for all of middle America to see today. The message emanating from the entire Democrat Party is that we don’t deserve to have borders or sovereignty. These used to be bedrock bipartisan values, but the Democrats have been taken over by extremists. This image will hurt them with the broad electorate in November.”
The Democrats went haywire in support of amnesty throughout the day Friday after the House GOP unified around the new conservative strategy.
“Let me make it very clear: the Hispanic caucus speaks for all of us--not just for their caucus members but for the Democratic caucus," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said at a press conference with Hispanic caucus members and other Democrat leaders in criticizing Republicans for not passing a border bill.
"We ought to be passing comprehensive immigration reform now," Hoyer said.
During a Rules Committee hearing, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) pressured Republicans to move on comprehensive immigration reform.
Gutierrez told reporters Friday evening that the DACA bill’s revamp was intended to appease the “very extreme right wing, xenophobic faction of their party.”
“They are the missing votes to their majority. The loudest meanest voices in the Republican Party dictate the policies for the majority. that is what I believe,” Gutierrez he said, when asked how conservatives were able to influence the process.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) offered an amendment during the hearing that all Republicans except Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) voted against, ultimately killing it, that would have brought the House Democrats’ comprehensive immigration bill to the floor for a vote Friday.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) decried the House GOP lawsuit as he addressed “all the white people in here” during the Rules Committee hearing — which was filled with battles between the Democrats and the newly unified Republicans like Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, who both also commented to the Rules panel.
According to the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe, Democrats offered harsher critiques of the GOP in Spanish than they did in English.
It remains to be seen how long this fragile coalition in the GOP can last — especially with many members who support amnesty — but for now it seems to be working.