There’s only a few weeks left until the summer recess swallows Congress’ legislative agenda for 2014, but a group of key Republicans haven’t given up immigration quite yet.
Helping guide a secretive effort to informally gauge support for legislative action on the issue before August are two expected names: Reps. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).
But joining them is a young conservative lawmaker whose efforts on the issue have shocked conservative power brokers and prompted a behind-the-scenes backlash.
“Absolutely,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) told Breitbart News, “I have been talking about immigration with my colleagues for months. Talking about important issues is part of my job.”
Mulvaney was quick to add he isn’t “whipping” support for a bill per se – “I haven’t even seen a bill on immigration reform that I could whip even if I wanted to,” he said – and that he remains firmly opposed to the Senate “Gang of Eight” bill.
“I have absolutely no interest in taking up the Senate bill or going to conference on the Senate bill. Securing our borders is my first priority on any immigration reform, and the Senate bill falls woefully short on that point. Furthermore, I will not support a special pathway to citizenship for those who are here illegally. The Senate bill has always been and remains a non-starter,” Mulvaney said.
Still, his support for House action on the issue this year, and his backing for a separate issue, reauthorization of the Export-Import bank, has prompted new scrutiny on Mulvaney from the right.
“He needs to be called out for this,” one prominent conservative says.
Mulvaney not only has one of the most conservative voting records in the House Republican conference, he has been a leader of a group of conservative dissidents looking to push Speaker John Boehner to the right. In 2013, Mulvaney pointedly took a seat near the front of the House chamber and sat silently as his name was called repeatedly during the Boehner’s reelection as speaker.
His new movement on immigration isn’t his first foray into the issue. In February, he was profiled by a New York Times reporter who traveled to his South Carolina district to witness his first town hall conducted in Spanish.
But then, he said legislative action was out of the question because President Obama is an untrustworthy partner. “We are afraid that if we reach an agreement, he will take the parts he likes and he won’t take the parts that he doesn’t like,” Mulvaney told the audience in Spanish, according to the Times.
Mulvaney’s active involvement on the issue now suggests that calculation may have changed for him, although the sentiment is felt even more deeply by top immigration hawks who note President Obama has continued to aggressively wield his executive action pen in the months since.
At a town hall last week, Mulvaney used rhetoric on the issue similar to that of top amnesty proponents.
“Immigration is not a simple issue. There are at least three major parts of it: there’s border security, legal immigration, and the status of the 11 million, 15 million, 30 million … pick a number – it’s the status of the folks who are here illegally. People say, ‘oh, comprehensive reform is a bad idea.’ Ok? But, unless you deal with all three of those you haven’t dealt with immigration,” Mulvaney said.
“There are jobs that American citizens will not do. There are jobs that American citizens will not do. We can talk about why that is. We can talk about how our welfare state is broken, how we encourage people not to work, but that doesn’t help the farmer pick his peaches this summer. We have businesses that rely on migrant – legal – migrant workers, and a lot of them are in this state,” he added.
The secretive immigration talks by Diaz-Balart, Ryan and Mulvaney still face severe hurdles if they are to successfully bring legislation to the floor in June or July.
Many top GOP aides say the tide has not turned since February, when the House GOP leadership’s immigration principles were unveiled to an outcry that foisting a civil war on the party just ahead of a midterm election was political suicide.
Still, last week, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) told a local newspaper that what he described as a “quiet whip effort” was making progress.
“They started a quiet whip count, trying to gauge what the support was for doing something on immigration within the Republican conference. We want to see where we stand on that whip count because, obviously, the Speaker does not want to get out in front of it and then have the limb sawed off behind him,” Amodei said.
“But I said, you know what? I’m hopeful. My sense — and I could be wrong — but I think there are 165 to 180 people in the Republican conference that will be open minded to this and support it,” he added.
Asked for comment about Ryan’s involvement in the issue, his spokesman, Kevin Seifert, said, “Congressman Ryan has laid out his principles for immigration reform. He’s said that the House should not take up or conference with the Senate bill and that there should be no special pathway to citizenship for those here illegally. Congressman Ryan has also said that any reform effort should begin by securing our border and enforcing our laws.”