Senate Conservatives Huddle With House Members to Plot Immigration Revolt

by Joel Gehrke

A trio of senators crossed the Capitol last night to discuss the congressional response to President Obama’s recent executive orders on immigration. The consensus: Republican leadership doesn’t want to fight Obama, so the lawmakers have to hope that grassroots activists can goad their colleagues into a more aggressive posture.

“I hope that the American people will speak up and share their views with Congress and good strong language will come out of the House,” Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) told National Review Online Thursday afternoon. 

Sessions demurred when asked about coordination with House colleagues — “all of us are curious about what they’re doing,” he said — but multiple sources tell NRO that Sessions, Senator David Vitter (R., La.), and Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) met with a group of House members last night in the office of Arizona representative Matt Salmon. Vitter also organized a conference call with some House Republicans Wednesday afternoon. The purpose of the two encounters, which happened on the same day that Texas senator Ted Cruz met with Iowa representative Steve King, was to emphasize that “the first bill that you guys do was really our best and only chance,” according to one Senate aide; the Senate hawks won’t be able to instigate a fight if the House passes a bill that provides long-term funding for the entire government.

In the evening meeting, the lawmakers compared notes about their distrust for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and House speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

“There is a general belief that, despite the rhetoric from leadership after the executive order was announced, they really have no desire to do anything substantive to fight this,” one lawmaker who attended the meeting explained to NRO in a series of text messages. “Part of it is that leadership (as proxies for the Chamber [of Commerce]) wants the amnesty; Obama’s order provides a way to deliver cheap labor to the Chamber without having to vote for it. Part of it is an absolute fear of any conflict, including even a partial ‘shutdown.’”

Members of the small group believe that about 50 or 60 House Republicans are opposed to the House leadership’s current plan (a CRomnibus bill that passes several long-term appropriations bills but leaves the Department of Homeland Security operating on a short-term continuing resolution of as-yet-undetermined length).

“The thing is that Sessions’s opposition will likely flip the whole [Alabama and Mississippi] GOP delegations (these guys usually would vote for a bloated omnibus) so it won’t necessarily be the same 50 or 60 who voted against other bloated bills like the farm bill,” the lawmaker suggested.

House leaders are expected to partner with Democrats, so the conservative rank-and-file opponents think they’ll need the outside activist groups to ramp up the pressure on other lawmakers.

“Basically, [the] senators felt outside groups and the grassroots need to get engaged — the membership is largely behind the leadership so there is a need to get the members to whip ‘No’ so that leadership is forced to do something different,” the lawmaker said. That effort has already begun, to some degree, but it hasn’t been enough to convince Republicans to pass a bill in the lame-duck session that stipulates that federal funding may not be used to implement the executive orders.

“I’m very skeptical that outside groups will make a big difference because only some of them even engage on immigration and the ones that do aren’t as influential as they used to be,” the lawmaker lamented.

They aren’t giving up, the senators told the House members, even if they lose the funding fight. The Republican-controlled Senate, next year, could ask every presidential nominee with immigration-related responsibilities if they think Obama’s order is constitutional.

“If they say they will follow Obama then how can a GOP senator justify voting for a nominee who will violate his oath of office?” the lawmaker said.

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