Steve King faction winning immigration battle in House GOP?

One of Representative Steve King’s top priorities this year is blocking comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. House. A few months ago, King was concerned that House GOP leaders might cut a deal including “amnesty” for  approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants. He condemned the immigration reform bill U.S. senators approved last month with bipartisan support.

News out of Washington during the last week suggests that King’s faction may be on the way to winning their battle to block any legislation outlining a path to citizenship.  

House leaders passed a couple of bills early this year with support from most Democrats and a minority of the GOP caucus. Those deviations from the so-called “Hastert rule” fueled speculation that Speaker John Boehner might get the Senate’s immigration reform bill through the House in a similar way. However, Boehner has rejected those rumors. On July 8 he emphasized that the House will not take up the Senate’s immigration reform bill: “It is time for Congress to act. But I believe the House has its job to do, and we will do our job.”

Some Republicans have expressed concern that even if the House passes a bill more narrowly focused on border security and punishing employers that hire undocumented immigrants, a compromise including a path to citizenship might emerge later from conference committee negotiations.

During a closed-door House Republican meeting on July 10, Boehner reassured members of his caucus that he will respect the Hastert rule.

Boehner spoke at the outset of the meeting and reiterated his pledge that no immigration bill, including a final House-Senate conference report, would come to the floor without the support of a majority of the House GOP. But both he and [Paul] Ryan, the House budget chief and the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, made the case that the House GOP should take action on immigration in a way that reflected the party’s principles, Republicans in the room said.

Boehner “said we’d be in a much weaker position if we didn’t act,” according to Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “He clearly wants to act, thinks something needs to get done. Frankly, our principles are probably closer to where the American people are, but it’s incumbent upon us to act.”

Four House Democrats and three Republicans have been negotiating a compromise on immigration reform. They recently decided to put off their rollout until September so as not to create a big target for criticism during the month-long summer Congressional recess. Greg Sargent summarized the key points of the “gang of seven” compromise here. They won’t satisfy Republicans like King.

Conventional beltway wisdom isn’t always accurate, but Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei made a convincing case last week that immigration reform is headed toward a “slow death.”

In private conversations, top Republicans on Capitol Hill now predict comprehensive immigration reform will die a slow, months-long death in the House. Like with background checks for gun buyers, the conventional wisdom that the party would never kill immigration reform, and risk further alienating Hispanic voters, was always wrong – and ignored the reality that most House Republicans are white conservatives representing mostly white districts.

Republican leaders will huddle with their members Wednesday afternoon [July 10] to plot their public strategy. But after holding countless listening sessions, it is clear to these leaders that getting even smaller, popular pieces of reform will be a tough sell. The House plans a piecemeal approach: a border-security bill this month, maybe one or two items a month in the fall. […]

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a leader of the House’s hell-no-on-immigration-reform caucus, held a jam-packed meeting Monday night to walk through why his party should proudly defeat the bipartisan bill. King said the Senate’s immigration plan would help “elites who want cheap labor, Democratic power brokers, and those who hire illegal labor.”

“It would hurt Republicans, and I don’t think you can make an argument otherwise,” King said. “Two out of every three of the new citizens would be Democrats.” Some might dismiss this as the rantings of a bombastic right-winger – but his take is mainstream theology among House Republicans.

On July 15, King was a featured speaker at the DC March for Jobs and press conference organized by the Black American Leadership Alliance. You can watch his entire speech here:

Here’s my transcript of a passage that begins around the 4:25 mark, just after King talked about his ancestors and relatives who were war veterans:

One of the things that they fought for, my great grandfather five times great, my great uncle five times great, and by the way, my Uncle Everett, who just had his 90th birthday and was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge–all, and millions more, paid that price, not so we could take the rule of law and shovel it off the side because of political inconvenience. Not so we could hand amnesty over to people because that helps some folks over here on the other side of the aisle politically get more voters. You don’t sacrifice the rule of law so you can have undocumented Democrats! That makes no sense.

We don’t have a political immigration policy and we shall not have a political immigration policy. We must have an immigration policy that’s designed to enhance the economic, the social, and the cultural well-being of the United States of America.

King’s office released a different, less political excerpt from his speech:

“We are here today to stand up for free enterprise, for opportunities for the American workers, for God-born, country national-born, and God blessed American workers. We are all American people here in this place.  And there’s no place in the world, no country you can come to and become of that nationality, except America. Let’s keep it legal. Let’s respect the Rule of Law, and let’s have a smart immigration policy. Let’s remember the price paid by those who went before us.”

Both arguments will likely carry a lot of weight with House Republicans. If Boehner keeps his promise not to move a bill that lacks the support of a “majority of the majority,” I don’t see how immigration reform can pass.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday this past weekend, King warned that President Barack Obama cannot be trusted to enforce border security measures as part of a new immigration law.

Representative Tom Latham (IA-03) doesn’t speak about this issue as frequently as King does, but his recent comments about immigration reform are worth noting. Latham is close to Speaker Boehner and considered more of a mainstream House member than King. In late May, he had some positive things to say about the Senate’s work on immigration reform:

Henderson:  The Senate has begun serious consideration of an immigration reform plan. One of your colleagues in the House, Republican Steve King, has called it amnesty. What do you call it?

Latham:  I call it a good start. I’m very pleased that the Senate has finally had a debate in an open forum. They marked up their bill over there, five days in committee and they’re going bring it to the floor and the House is going to do the same thing. We’re not going to automatically pick up whatever the Senate does, and I have real concerns about the Senate’s product here because they’re talking about giving status to folks long before there’s any other enforcement of immigration laws and that is a real concern and a lot of other concerns also.

Henderson:  What timeline do you favor?

Latham:  Well, I think you have to show that you can enforce the law and that you can secure the border that you have a verification system actually operating and functioning for employers to know that the employee is actually legal status before you give status to individuals. We’ve got to address the problem. It is a broken system that’s caused a lot of heartache to a lot of family, but we’ve got to do it right.

Henderson:  Is it important for your party to do this?

Latham:  Oh, I think it’s important for the country to actually have a system that actually works to really understand that we need immigrants in this country, whether it be for high tech, whether it be for farm labor but have a system that works. I think its best thing for obviously the country to get this done and we’ve got to do it right.

This month, Latham struck a more negative tone when asked about the Senate bill:

“The Senate bill – it certainly would not have any opportunity of passing in the House,” Latham says.

House Republicans will meet in private July 10th to talk about the issue. Many House Republicans are opposed to a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people living in the country today – something the Senate endorsed in its bill. Latham is among the Republicans who say they need proof the border is secure before they’ll even consider granting legal status to those who entered the country illegally.

“I support the House position, that is to move individual bills addressing immigration: talking about border security, about making a verification system work and in place before any kind of change in status for people who have come into the country undocumented,” Latham says. “And that’s really the way we’re going to proceed.”

The Senate folded all immigration-related proposals into one bill. Steve King – Iowa’s other Republican congressman – has long opposed what he calls “amnesty” and he opposes House votes on any part of immigration reform. King and others fear congressional leaders might use any bill that passes the House as a vehicle to forge a compromise immigration reform measure with the Senate.

I used the word “battle” in the title of this post because in the long run, I don’t think Republicans like King can win on this issue. It will become increasingly clear that the GOP can’t win national elections without improving their standing among Latino voters. While immigration is by no means the only issue driving Latino support to Democratic candidates during the past decade, GOP demagoguery against immigration reform has been an important factor in the trend. Other Democrats will follow President Obama’s lead in pressing their case on immigration reform through Spanish-language media, which follow the Congressional debate closely. At some point, House Republicans will be forced to accept some path to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans. The Senate is unlikely to approve a bill that provides at best second-class status.

Please share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

P.S.- Mother Jones compiled Steve King’s “greatest hits” on immigration here.

P.P.S- King should have reacted with more class when a group of “DREAMers” barged into his office last month. Instead, he derided them as “brazen self professed illegal aliens.”

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