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The Tea Party vs. Immigration Reform



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At yesterday’s “Audit the IRS” rally, one decidedly non-IRS-related issue consistently fired up attendees: opposition to the Senate’s Gang of Eight comprehensive-immigration-reform proposal. And the Tea Party’s favorite senators are capitalizing on that energy to rally opponents of the legislation in the eleventh hour. Today a few of the Senate’s most vocal opponents of the legislation gathered on the Northeast lawn of the Capitol with local and national tea-party leaders to lay out the grassroots case against the legislation.

Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) opened the event with a tie-in to the Tea Party’s favorite foil, the IRS. He started by challenging the seriousness of the legislation’s promises.

“We’ve been promised, for example, that they’ll be required to pay taxes,” he said. “Well, when you read the fine print of the thousand-page bill, it turns out that isn’t true. In fact, it’s deliberately misleading. They’re required nominally to pay taxes, but only those taxes that have been assessed by the IRS. But, of course, if you’ve been working off the books, you won’t have anything assessed by the IRS. That promise is an illusory one.”

Senators Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), and David Vitter (R., La.) added to the chorus. Sessions has been a long-time and vocal skeptic of comprehensive immigration reform. While Sessions questioned the bill’s impact on unemployment numbers, Inhofe appealed to concerns about national security. And Vitter expressed his appreciation for the tea-party activists who came to D.C. to express their opposition to the proposal.

The Tea Party seems to oppose the Senate Gang of Eight’s legislation with the same vehemence that it directed at the Affordable Care Act. Now, it’s important to bear in mind that generalizing about the Tea Party is incredibly fraught, given the movement’s size, amorphousness, and ideological diversity. But I asked a number of tea-party leaders if it was appropriate to say “the Tea Party opposes the Senate Gang of Eight immigration proposal,” and consistently heard that it was.

Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, told reporters after the press conference that opposition among members of her group is overwhelming. She said the group polled local coordinators about the legislation, and 85 percent said they opposed it.

“Mostly, the thing that factored into our decision is the size of the bill and how quickly it’s moving through Congress, and that it’s so reminiscent of Obamacare,” she said.

One conservative insider had a similar estimate: He estimates that between 10 and 15 percent of tea-party members are comfortable with the Gang of Eight legislation.

Niger Innis, who also spoke at the press conference, told reporters afterward that Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) did a terrible job in the bill’s negotiations.

“He got his butt handed to him, and you can put that on the record,” Innis said.

Michael Johns, who helped start the tea-party movement, told me earlier that tea-party opposition to the bill is near-universal.

“There is zero support within the tea-party movement for the Gang of Eight’s initiatives,” he tells me. He added that Rubio has lost credibility within the movement.

And Judson Phillips, who founded the Tea Party Nation, said virtually the same thing.

“I don’t know anybody who’s involved in the tea-party movement at any level who thinks that the Gang of Eight plan’s a good idea,” he said. “The weight of the amnesty bill is greater than the weight of the Obamacare bill, and we know how that one turned out.” 



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