‘It’s not the card you want to play but it’s an awfully good one to have in your hand,” says Iowa representative Steve King about his plan to force a “special conference” for the House GOP to discuss immigration.
Under the rules of the House Republican caucus, any rank-and-file member can force such a closed-door session with 50 signatures. It happens to be the same procedure one would use to force an unscheduled leadership election. Even though that’s not the only purpose for such a meeting, forcing Speaker John Boehner to convene one would be a bold move by King and his supporters.
King, who recently decided against a Senate bid, stands apart in his passion for fighting the proposed immigration legislation.
At the recent closed-door debate hosted by the Republican Study Committee, Representative Raul Labrador asked for a show of hands.
“Who wants less legal immigration?” Labrador asked, according to the notes of a person who was in the room.
Of the roughly 100 conservative Republicans in the room, only King raised his hand.
Labrador then asked who wants “more legal and less illegal immigration?,” and dozens of hands rose.
“I had people come up to me afterwards and say ‘I agree with you 100 percent’ . . . there are a lot of them that are afraid to step up and say so. And I knew that it was a maneuver that was, I’ll say, designed to marginalize. I knew that before I raised my hand,” King explains, “But I also knew if I didn’t raise my hand, he would say ‘it’s unanimous. Nobody wants less legal immigration.’”
“I will tell you most of the people in that room do not know what the level of legal immigration is,” King says; he wonders how can they have a well-informed opinion of the issue.
Since November 2012’s disappointing election results came in, King has been fighting the conventional wisdom among D.C. Republicans that passing a comprehensive immigration bill is crucial to the GOP’s political survival.
When President Obama came before House Republicans in March, King recalls, he told his political opponents, “You will never win another national election again until you pass comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans, I am trying to help you.” The Iowan retorts, “I don’t know how any Republicans can think it’s a good idea to take that kind of political help from the president. He’s not trying to help us.”
In fact, King believes the bill will create a permanent Democratic majority, something he implored his colleagues to heed at the RSC meeting.
“What they are seeking to do is convert the Hispanic vote into a monolithic voting bloc, very similar to that of African Americans. They know how to do it, they succeeded with the African-American vote.”
King is frank about the difficulties of going up against the charismatic Senator Marco Rubio, whose conservative credentials, heading into the immigration debate, were stellar.
“I don’t want to be in a position where I’m personally critical of Marco Rubio. I think too much of him in all other categories,” King says. “At the panel that was before the RSC last week, if that had been the four House Democrats and the four Senate Democrats advancing that bill, a whole lot of those people . . . would disagree completely with the same language they seem to be nodding their head at today.”
Despite the disadvantages, King is making significant progress in organizing House conservatives against a bill. Case in point is the vote last week to stop the Department of Homeland Security from unilaterally granting citizenship to illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
King is clear that the special conference is not a bid to unseat Boehner. “It’s not my plan or strategy to engage in any kind of maneuvering on leadership. I think it’s pretty clear from my actions that I don’t have a desire to go that way,” he says.
But with Boehner reportedly looking to pass an immigration vehicle before the August recess, the impending “family discussion” may give him pause.
— Jonathan Strong is a political reporter at National Review Online.