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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Boehner Is Hit From the Right on Overhaul for Immigration

From The New York Times:

As House Republicans embarked late last month in luxury buses for their retreat on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, their ears were already ringing with angry phone calls. Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, was imploring its members to flood the Capitol with warnings to accept “no amnesty.”

The day before, the Tea Party Patriots group thousands of voters to their members of Congress. The hashtag #NoAmnesty blazed across Twitter. About the same time, FreedomWorks, another anti-tax, limited-government group, was pulling in signatures on its “fire the speaker” petition against the House speaker, John A. Boehner. set in motion 900,000 automatic phone calls in 90 Republican House districts, connecting tens of voters to their members of Congress. The hashtag #NoAmnesty blazed across Twitter. About the same time, FreedomWorks, another anti-tax, limited-government group, was pulling in signatures on its “fire the speaker” petition against the House speaker, John A. Boehner.

When House Republicans gathered on Jan. 30 to actually read and discuss Mr. Boehner’s principles on immigration reform, his was already a losing battle.
 
“Why did we even put these out there?” asked Representative Tom Price, a respected conservative Republican from Georgia, urging leaders to set aside the issue until after the November elections.
 
A week later, Mr. Boehner shelved the issue, declaring Thursday that he could not move forward with a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws until President Obama won the trust of the Republican conference.
 
“I would’ve been surprised if Boehner didn’t do that,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana and a leader in the opposition to immigration legislation. “Few things in politics are as obvious as this one. That’s why there was a collective shrug in conservative leadership” when the speaker all but declared the measure dead.
 
Since October’s government shutdown, Mr. Boehner has been in open warfare with outside conservative groups, dealing them one loss after another: reopening the government, winning overwhelming passage of a budget deal they opposed, then a trillion-dollar spending bill they loathed, and this week, securing a new agriculture law that largely kept the food stamp program intact over the objections of conservatives.
 
But on immigration, the groups flexed their collective muscles. Heritage Action and the Heritage Foundation rushed to claim credit. So did Tea Party Patriots and the conservative activist L. Brent Bozell and his ForAmerica group, which called for a clean sweep of the House Republican leadership if it moved forward on the issue.
 
Lawmakers played down the impact of such outside groups, arguing that the outlook for their re-election was improving and, beyond that, they had little trust in dealing with Mr. Obama.
 
“Everyone has a common agreement there’s a major problem in our immigration system, but it’s going to take leadership, from the president and from the Senate,” said Representative James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, who is running for an open Senate seat in his home state. “The conversation kept circling around to, ‘How can we possibly trust this president?’ ”
 
Still, the conservative groups, sensing an opening, clearly provided the arguments that prevailed. Heritage Foundation figures like Robert Rector provided intellectual heft for Republicans looking for arguments to oppose their leaders. As House members gathered in Cambridge, Md., to hash over the issue, Heritage posted on its Foundry blog the argument that would ultimately win the day.
 
Derrick Morgan, the think tank’s vice president for domestic and economic policy, was succinct and directive: “During their retreat, Republicans in Congress are considering what they should do. Congress should not trust the president as a partner to push an unpopular amnesty.”
 
For good measure, Heritage posted a video featuring Mr. Morgan making that case — and opening with a call for action on immigration from Mr. Obama, a messenger most conservatives reflexively resist. Invitations had already been delivered for what Heritage Action was billing as an alternative policy retreat, to give lawmakers opposing their own leadership new objectives to embrace.
 
And in the days that followed the retreat, such efforts continued. On Wednesday, just a day before Mr. Boehner all but pulled the plug, Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, one of the most committed opponents of immigration legislation, huddled with a small group of conservative members and the pollster Scott Rasmussen. Mr. King said that Mr. Rasmussen’s message was pointed: “I can’t think of a stupider thing for your conference to take up,” he said. (One week earlier at a similar gathering, Mr. King added, the guest speaker had been Sean Hannity of Fox News, who had sounded a similar alarm.)
 
That same day, Mr. Bozell’s organization, ForAmerica, took to Facebook to urge its members to call Mr. Boehner with a simple but urgent message. “Border security should be stressed and should be the priority first and foremost,” said David Bozell, the group’s executive director and the son of L. Brent Bozell. “And until that is accomplished, we really don’t trust any branch of the government to put together a package.” The younger Mr. Bozell said that the organization made over 5,500 calls. “We certainly think there was an impact there,” he said.
 
Behind the scenes, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, began talking about the importance of dealing with the nation’s immigration problem — but not until 2015, a critical shift in strategy.
 
In the meantime, ardent opponents grew bolder in the week after the Republican retreat. Representative Raúl Labrador, Republican of Idaho and a negotiator on immigration, suggested a push now would cost Mr. Boehner his speakership. Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, echoed the threat.
 
In the end, Mr. Fleming, the representative from Louisiana, said that the speaker understood it was not worth picking a fight that would almost certainly end with nothing accomplished.
 
“I think he feels the heat and has felt the heat,” Mr. Fleming said of the speaker. “There has been a lot of talk that if the speaker had moved forward and forced members to vote, that would end his speakership. There was not much point in that.”

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