For conservatives who oppose the Gang of Eight immigration bill championed by Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), yesterday was their day to proclaim their disagreement loud and clear.
In a “press conference” that quickly turned into a rally, Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) urgently made the case that immigration legislation was being steamrolled too quickly through the House and Senate. “I kind of like a microphone that has some volume to it,” he jovially told the crowd, which would grow to include hundreds of tea partiers over the next couple of hours.
He decried the proposed legislation as being “at its heart and core amnesty,” and held out hope that “maybe there’s a way yet to kill this thing in the Senate.”
“I’d hoped that we could carefully deliberate,” he said. “I’d hoped that we could have inside, closed-door discussions in our Republican family here. I’d hoped that we’d have a slower process that would let the American people catch up with what’s going on here. But it seems that the green flag’s been dropped on immigration here in the House, too. So that’s why we are here today — to take this debate outside the halls of Congress.”
Representative Louie Gohmert (R., Texas) expressed concerns about the possibility that conservatives in the House might be betrayed by the GOP House leadership. Gohmert worries that Speaker John Boehner hasn’t fully committed himself to the so-called Hastert Rule, which requires that a majority of the majority support a bill before it is brought to the floor. He pointed to Boehner’s response to a question posed by National Review Online’s Jonathan Strong on Tuesday about whether the Hastert Rule would apply to a conference report, the legislative vehicle for ironing out differences between whatever immigration bills ultimately pass the House and the Senate. “We’ll see when we get there,” Boehner told Strong.
“You see why we’re concerned?” Gohmert asked the assembled crowd. (Boehner’s office clarified Tuesday that Boehner thought a conference report on immigration should not proceed unless a majority of House Republicans backed it.)
“We should not be bringing a bill to the floor of the House” without the support of a Republican majority, Gohmert insisted. “People all across America fought so hard to make sure that we continued to have a Republican majority in the House. . . . Americans said, ‘We don’t want Speaker Pelosi to be speaker. We want her to be former speaker.’”
King expressed more optimism about the House leadership, saying, “My sense is that the speaker is starting to firm up” in his support for the “rule-of-law” arguments King and other conservatives are making. But he worried that even if Boehner followed the Hastert Rule, Democrats could introduce certain amendments on the floor that would change the bill such that it allowed “amnesty.” With those amendments in place, just enough Republicans could join the Democrats to pass the bill and send it to President Obama’s desk.
It was unclear what exactly King and Gohmert’s ultimate strategy is. King stressed that House Republicans need to have a conversation: “We need to have a special conference on immigration and air this out behind closed doors.” Boehner has already scheduled such a conference for July 10.
Rubio, who has been attempting to sell the Gang of Eight bill to conservatives for months, came under fire during the rally. Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector, the co-author of a report estimating the net costs of illegal immigration and amnesty to the taxpayer, took aim at the Florida senator. “No matter what Marco Rubio says, who has not read his own bill, incidentally . . . ” was how Rector began a criticism of the immigration legislation. At one point, when Rector mentioned Rubio, the assembled tea partiers booed loudly, with at least one person shouting, “Traitor!” One sign read, “Rubio Lies, America dies.” Another read, “6.3 Trillion $, Cost of Marcos Amnesty Bill. (Net.)”
“The thing I find most offensive of all is Senator Rubio’s staff saying that we need to have more low-skilled immigrants because American workers can’t cut it,” Rector thundered, referring to comments an anonymous aide made to the TheNew Yorker. “I say the American dream belongs to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants first,” Rector said.
Rector also harshly criticized the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the long-term costs of passing the Gang’s bill. “CBO is like the Wizard in TheWizard of Oz,” he jeered. “It’s a bunch of guys who sit behind a curtain and say, ‘Well, we’re CBO. And what we say is true.’”
Gohmert warned about the potential national-security dangers of failing to secure our borders. “Islamists who have come to our southern border,” he said, “have taken on Hispanic names, have gotten Mexican ID cards, and then tried to blend in and come across our borders — some of them even learning Spanish.”
He also mocked those who are uncomfortable with the term “illegal immigrants.” He said that during a trip he and King took to England a few years ago, a government official there told him, “‘It’s not appropriate to say illegal immigration.’”
“I said, ‘Well, what do you call it?’” Gohmert recounted. “They said it’s ‘irregular migration.’ I said, ‘We have stuff in America that helps with that kind of problem in your body functions.’”