Wednesday morning at a small meeting of conservative House members called the Conservative Opportunity Society, the topic was immigration–specifically, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Despite the loud protestations of his rank-and-file, the House Speaker had come back from the the GOP’s retreat in Cambridge, Maryland seemingly determined as ever to get amnesty legislation to the floor in 2014.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen laid it out in blunt terms. “I can’t think of a stupider thing for the Republicans to do,” Rasmussen told the assembled lawmakers (he thinks the GOP should tackle immigration reform in 2015, after the midterms).
Only 24 hours later, the Ohio Republican finally relented, abruptly hitting the brakes on his immigration push.
Boehner told reporters that distrust of Obama was an insurmountable hurdle to bringing forward legislation. The real story of Boehner’s sudden reticence was the building fury of hardline amnesty opponents in Congress and the grassroots activists who had been melting the Capitol phone lines.
And while it would be deeply naïve to believe the push for amnesty is dead, Boehner’s retreat Thursday was just the latest time his conservative critics have been able to thwart his determined push to tackle the issue since the 2012 elections.
In the weeks leading up to the big reveal of Boehner’s immigration “principles,” anti-amnesty groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) had begun revving up their messaging machines. Heritage Action’s website began filling itself with anti-amnesty posts. Tea Party Patriots leaders began bashing the GOP leadership, with co-founder Jenny Beth Martin hawking the group’s FireSpeakerBoehner.com petition.
On Wednesday, grassroots group ForAmerica launched a Facebook campaign urging activists to call Boehner’s office. The result? 5,500 phone calls in 24 hours with the message “no secret deals on amnesty,” the group’s spokesman said.
In the middle of it all, conservative war horse Phyllis Schlafly dropped her own bomb, issuing a report with the thesis that immigration reform would result in the demographic extinction of the GOP.
Inside the Capitol, Alabama Sen. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) began flouting delicate congressional protocol, openly organizing House members against Boehner. His Senate colleagues were following suit. Regulars like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) took shots at Boehner’s principles, but pretty soon Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and even Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were making it clear they thought Boehner was out to lunch.
At the retreat, roughly 40 House Republicans told Boehner face-to-face they wanted nothing to do with immigration in 2014, a large majority of those who spoke.
That day, the hits just kept on coming for Boehner in the conservative media, the greatest indignity being a superimposed sombrero hat on the Drudge Report.
Top amnesty proponent Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) threw cold water on the push on the Sunday shows, but back in Washington on Monday, Boehner just kept going, touting his principles over the Senate Gang of Eight bill in a closed-door meeting Tuesday while his office issued promotional materials about the issue.
It was around this time that the private discussions of amnesty’s biggest foes took a turn in a more explicitly anti-Boehner direction, GOP sources say.
The discussions, while early, were real. Members and staff talked about trying to force a special leadership election – which would require 50 signatures – in the event Boehner tried to move forward. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) told Roll Call Boehner “should lose his speakership” if he moved forward, and the rumors of a coup began to spread.
That’s when Boehner hit the brakes.
“We pushed the Speaker hard to understand that until the border is secure, it doesn’t make sense to even discuss reforms, and the Speaker FINALLY CAME TO OUR SENSES,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said in an email to Breitbart News.
Boehner gave himself plenty of room to resurrect the issue several months down the line, and his critics aren’t ready to pop the champagne cork.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), for example, said the whole episode was disconcerting.
“I am slowly but surely developing the opinion that John Boehner does not intend to run for Speaker,” Brooks said in a phone interview.
Or, if he does, then it will be quite a challenge for him to accumulate the 218 votes needed to be elected Speaker. He’s just not acting like a candidate for Speaker who needs and wants 95 percent of the Republican conference vote to get to that 218 needed to be elected. It’s one thing to get a majority vote of the Republican conference. It’s another thing to get the 218 votes you need to actually be elected. That’s the number you need under the Constitution. He almost was not elected last time. Remember, these remarks are coming from somebody who voted for John Boehner twice.
“We’re used to now having amnesty pushers declare their efforts to be dead only to have them be miraculously revived a few months later,” a GOP aide opposed to amnesty told Breitbart News. “The fight’s not dead until Ryan, Cantor, and Boehner formally announce they have no intentions of passing amnesty, ever.”
That’s doubtful. But the last few weeks should have put the fear of God in their hearts, at least.