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Conservative Coalition Presses House Republicans to Act on Immigration PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 25 October 2013 16:28

By ERIC LIPTON and ASHLEY PARKER on October 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — With immigration re-emerging as the topic of focus in Washington, an unusual coalition of business executives, Republican Party activists and evangelical leaders will descend on Capitol Hill early next week to pressure House Republicans to pass their own legislation.

“Doing nothing is not the answer,” said Glenn McCall, a retired banker and a Republican National Committee leader from South Carolina, who will be in Washington as part of the lobbying event. “We have done that, and you can see where we are.”

The debate threatens to create another schism in the Republican Party and to further alienate a major source of campaign contributions; several corporate executives interviewed this week said they were considering withholding donations from lawmakers who get in the way.

The push to bring immigration legislation to the House floor comes only weeks after House conservatives alienated many longtime supporters — including much of corporate America — by trying to block financing for President Obama’s health care law, a move widely blamed for the government shutdown.

House Republican leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, among others, support taking up their own immigration legislation this year, given that the Senate has already passed a comprehensive bill.

But privately, some House Republican officials are saying that they do not expect any major legislation to move through the House this year, or perhaps not even until 2015, in advance of the next presidential election.

There is intense division within the party over the proposals. In fact, a core group of hard-line conservatives said in interviews this week that they would not be intimidated by pressure from corporate America or other outside parties, even though in this case that includes farmers, evangelical leaders and some prominent conservatives.

“I care about the sovereignty of the United States of America and what it stands for, and not an open-door policy,” said Representative Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, who is one of several conservatives opposing all of the bills the House is currently considering.

Even some who support a measure to increase border security say they would not vote for such a bill, fearing that it could become a vehicle to grant citizenship to an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

“We have seen the character of this president, and the way that he does business,” said Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, explaining why he will oppose any measure.

Mr. Obama, speaking from the White House on Thursday, said Democrats and Republicans in the House must unite to pass an immigration package.

“Everybody wins here if we work together to get this done,” the president said.

The next two months are seen as a critical window to move ahead on the legislation, before Congress gets caught up again in budget debates and distracted by re-election efforts in 2014.

For months now, including this week, Capitol Hill has been the focus of immigration advocates, who have gone door to door trying to meet with lawmakers to urge them to take up the legislation. Next week’s event will be different, organizers said, because it will involve about 600 mostly conservative leaders in business, agriculture and religion from 80 Congressional districts in 40 states — all of them held by Republicans.

The crowd on Tuesday will include Republicans like Danny Tarkanian of Nevada, who twice has run for a seat in Congress, and his wife, Amy Tarkanian, a former Nevada Republican Party chairwoman, as well as Terry Jones, a dairy farmer from Idaho who considers himself a member of the Tea Party movement, and Robert Ross, a Republican who owns a chain of restaurants in Oklahoma.

“The Republican Party has gotten hurt significantly over the past six years, with this demographic,” Mr. Tarkanian said, referring in part to Hispanic-Americans. “Getting this resolved would definitely help.”

Sponsors of the event include the United States Chamber of Commerce; FWD.us, a political action group set up by Silicon Valley executives including Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook; and the Partnership for a New Economy, which is led jointly by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch and Bill Marriott Jr.

The push by conservatives will begin Tuesday morning with a news conference featuring, among others, Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union; Frank Keating, the former Republican governor from Oklahoma who is now president of the American Bankers Association; and Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform.

The lawmakers who are the focus of the effort have expressed support for immigration legislation or a willingness to consider it, said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

Several Republican executives and donors who were planning to make the trip to Washington said they were considering withholding, or have already decided to withhold, future financial support to lawmakers they believe are obstructing progress on immigration.

“I respect people’s views and concerns about the fact that we have a situation in the United States where we have millions of undocumented immigrants,” said Justin Sayfie, a lawyer from Florida who said he helped Mitt Romney raise more than $100,000 for his presidential campaign last year, in addition to helping other Republican candidates. “But we have what we have. This is October 2013. And the country will be better off if we fix it.”

Roy Beck, a founder of NumbersUSA, a group that opposes the Senate legislation, acknowledged in an interview that the push by conservatives — evangelical leaders in particular — worried him somewhat, leading him this week to urge his one million followers nationwide to step up their calls and e-mails to Congress.

“There is the potential this could shift some support,” Mr. Beck said.

Backers of the effort estimated that about 30 House Republicans, like Mr. King and Mr. Yoho, will not support immigration legislation under almost any condition. But they believe they can piece together a majority of the Republican caucus to pass certain bills, moving the debate to a committee of House and Senate negotiators, who could try to agree on a comprehensive package.

The contention centers on what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, which Democrats in both chambers say must be addressed in any final deal. Many House Republicans have already expressed support for proposals to strengthen border security and make it easier for high-skilled workers and farm laborers to get visas, all elements of the Senate package.

There have been hints of possible compromise. Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, who is one of the House’s more conservative members, said he could support “a path to status” for the undocumented immigrants who came here illegally.

The House Judiciary Committee, with Republican support, has already passed four immigration measures, none of which include a legalization component. Republican Representatives Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida have been working on legislation that includes a process by which immigrants here illegally could “get right with the law” and eventually become citizens.

A growing number of Republicans, however, privately say they see no political advantage for the party to move ahead on immigration legislation right now. They do not expect it to be a critical issue in the 2014 midterms — in fact, some House Republicans may be even more reluctant to take a tough vote on immigration during an election year — and they say it simply needs to be dealt with before the 2016 presidential elections. Thus, they say, they are most optimistic about pushing through an overhaul in 2015.

The conservative Republicans preparing to head to the Capitol next week — including Mr. Jones, the dairy farmer from Emmett, Idaho — said they hoped to prevent any such political calculus from blocking progress.

“You wake up and it is 25 degrees, and a cow that is giving birth, and you have 400 cows to milk that day, and you don’t have the help you need — that stinks,” Mr. Jones said, citing a shortage of labor that he says could be eased through a new immigration law. “I bet not one of those legislators back there have been in that position.”


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