The once-thought-to-be-dead House GOP leadership vehicle for a series of immigration bills including, presumably, an amnesty bill is roaring back to life thanks to Speaker John Boehner’s immigration adviser Becky Tallent’s efforts, several key Capitol Hill sources tell Breitbart News.
Tallent is a former chief of staff to Senate “Gang of Eight” ringleader Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee who lost to President Barack Obama. During her time with McCain, Tallent helped craft—working with the office of the now late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA)—a previous amnesty bill that failed to pass during the second term of the George W. Bush administration.
Boehner hired Tallent in December 2013 from the Bipartisan Policy Center, where she was an overtly aggressive advocate not just of amnesty for illegal aliens but also of bringing in hordes of cheap foreign laborers who take jobs away from American workers.
“There are jobs that American workers will not do,” Tallent said on C-SPAN in March, 2013. She also touted pro-amnesty former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in her various public appearances.
Rep. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, recently claimed the House leadership bill bill was the strongest border security bill introduced in the history of Congress. But the revelation that Tallent is intricately involved in the McCaul bill revival attempt confirms what many conservatives have long suspected: That it’s not just about the border.
On Friday, Tallent went to a meeting with more than 100 press and policy staffers from across the House GOP conference along with a top McCaul aide, Paul Anstine. Anstine, one of the many staffers from several different congressional offices who spoke to Breitbart News on background for this story, led the meeting.
Though aides from conservative offices involved in this meeting, and from McCaul’s committee, have responded to requests for comment for this story, neither Tallent herself nor Michael Steel—Boehner’s communications director—responded to Breitbart News’ detailed questions about the speaker’s intentions with the McCaul border bill or about the meeting on Friday.
Lauren Claffey, the Homeland Security Committee’s communications director, confirmed the meeting took place but didn’t answer when asked for specific details about what happened in the room—especially about Tallent’s comments.
“Chairman McCaul and the committee have been holding listening sessions with members and their staffs in order to have an open and honest dialogue about the need for border security legislation,” Claffey said in an email. “There is nothing more important than carrying out our Constitutional responsibility to ensure the sovereignty of our nation.”
Members have reason to be suspicious of leadership. Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) thinks leadership will try to use McCaul’s bill as a “Trojan Horse” for an eventual amnesty bill—and a series of bills that increase H-1B visas, and other increases in cheap foreign labor.
When several serious flaws in McCaul’s bill—particularly the lack of fencing (it only includes 48 miles of new double-layer fencing as opposed to the 700 miles required by current law) and the fact it allows President Obama’s administration to continue catch-and-release practices with illegal aliens—came to light, leadership pulled the bill, blaming weather.
Leadership still hasn’t rescheduled the bill on the House calendar, but House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Boehner and others appear to remain supportive of the bill in its current form though they haven’t put it back on his committee’s calendar for consideration yet either.
“This is not an interior enforcement bill,” Anstine began Friday’s meeting, one source tells Breitbart News, alluding to jurisdictional concerns that were previously cited as a reason for the bill’s weaknesses. “This is a border security bill. There has been discussion about bringing up on up an interior enforcement bill on a parallel track with this bill. So if anyone wants to ask any questions about interior enforcement—we can discuss it briefly, but it isn’t this bill. So if there are no questions, we’ll move on to the border security bill.”
Anstine was essentially contradicting what his own Homeland Security Committee colleagues told Breitbart News before the bill was pulled the last time, when they argued that the House couldn’t put interior enforcement in this bill. A Homeland Security Committee aide admitted to Breitbart News in January that yes, McCaul’s bill could in fact include interior enforcement to stop Obama’s catch-and-release if House GOP leadership wanted to—but there were no plans to actually do that.
Anstine then shifted into discussing some of the major points of the bill before one conservative staffer pressed him on why Republicans aren’t holding off on this matter until the Senate passes the House-passed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill that rescinds Obama’s executive amnesty. Senate Democrats have been blocking efforts by Republicans to even take up the legislation.
“These things are usually real yawners, but people wanted to know why we would even talk about this before the DHS funding bill was not only approved in the Senate, but actually signed by the President,” another staffer who described the meeting as “pretty interactive” said in an email to Breitbart News. “What was the timing as to the ‘parallel tracks’ with Judiciary on interior enforcement? Why are we jeopardizing national security for the sake of Committee jurisdictions?”
At that point, yet another conservative staffer stepped forward to challenge Anstine—who was flanked by Tallent. Multiple sources confirm the conservative staffer raised several concerns with the bill–specifically the “universal condemnation” among conservative lawmakers, law enforcement experts including 30,000 immigration agents, and more experts, and conservative media and talk radio. That conservative staffer, those sources say, argued moving forward on the bill would be a “horrible idea” because the claim that it’s the “toughest border security bill ever written” doesn’t hold water because it doesn’t do anything “to stop Obama from releasing illegals at the border.”
After some “quibbling” back and forth about the definition of what current fencing law requires, Anstine admitted that the bill doesn’t have 700 miles of double-layer fencing as required by the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
“Ok, fine,” Anstine said, according to several sources. “I’m former military. Fences don’t do anything. They get cut through. It’s difficult to construct given certain terrain conditions. And then there’s the question of where would we even build the fence? Fences don’t do anything because there’s no one to survey them. We’d need more drones, more surveillance, more agents, et cetera.”
After some more back-and-forth, Anstine was asked if he’d pledge to not move the McCaul bill forward through Congress until Obama’s catch-and-release of illegal aliens at the border was stopped.
“I’m not authorized to pledge anything now,” he responded.
Tallent jumped in then to tell the conservative staffers in the room that it’s up to her boss, Boehner, and the rest of House GOP leadership to make such a pledge. “You’d really have to bring this up with leadership,” Tallent said. “This isn’t a question for Paul. We want to keep it focused on his bill. So you should talk to me later.”
A conservative staffer then hammered home that it appears this larger GOP leadership strategy of pushing multiple immigration bills through Congress—with this being the first one—seems to be a larger plan of electing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush president of the United States by pushing amnesty policies he agrees with.
That staffer argued that there are concerns about the “biometric exit-entry [visa system]” as it relates to the bill, noting that at least six times since 1996 Congress has mandated that such a system be implemented. The McCaul bill, that staffer noted, “walks back from current law” and delays implementation of it for seven years. “Why don’t we include penalties before Obama leaves office rather than waiting well until the second term of a Jeb Bush presidency?” the staffer asked.
“From your lips to god’s ears,” Anstine replied.
The staff battle, one aide who was in the room told Breitbart News, “was pretty extraordinary to witness” because it shows how House GOP leadership and its staff like Tallent aren’t taking note of what Republican members think. “Mostly to see how leadership – and by extension leadership staff – disregards the will of their own caucus,” the staffer said.
“Some other staffers asked why this bill wasn’t being paralleled with an interior enforcement bill,” that aide said. “But in general, the folks that spoke up, were frustrated with the timing of the bill.”
Another aide who was there said Tallent worked aggressively to help McCaul’s team to bring the bill back to life. “Becky inserted herself every time she thought the Homeland Security guy was getting in trouble,” that House GOP aide said. “She always said just that Member-level discussions were ongoing, all these concerns had been brought up already, the timing was all up to Leadership. Whatever they end up pulling, Leadership will not be able to say they did not know what timing issues were of concern to Members and staff.”
“Becky stepped in quite a bit,” yet another aide said in an email. “I thought it was generally appropriate when they were talking about timing of the bill being brought forward, but there was a time she stepped in where the McCaul guy said [one of the conservative staffers] was wrong about the law having 700 miles of fence. Another staffer backed [that conservative staffer] up and said not 700 miles of double fence but in fact 700 miles of fence. The McCaul guy admitted that was true and said ‘yea yeah yeah that’s what I meant, double fence.’”
This is hardly the first time Tallent has been a lightning rod for controversy in House GOP circles. Last summer, Tallent found herself at the center of an altercation between Boehner and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).
Gohmert asked Boehner during the open mic portion of a GOP conference meeting whether Tallent was involved in the border crisis bill that later failed on the House floor because it wasn’t conservative enough and didn’t block Obama’s then-forthcoming widespread executive amnesty.
“Boehner rose from his chair and told Gohmert to knock it off, that he was ‘sick’ of him bringing up Tallent. According to one member present, Boehner was visibly angry, ‘erupting’ out of his chair to address Gohmert,” Breitbart News reported at the time. “As Boehner turned back around, Gohmert stood silently for a moment before asking, ‘So then why did you hire her?’ Without getting back up to the microphone, his voice raised, Boehner retorted, ‘because she’s well-qualified on immigration!’”
Tallent was there for the altercation, and despite her support and advocacy for amnesty, Boehner continues to stand by her.