WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has brought Rep. Steve King, one of the GOP's biggest critics, into the fold on immigration, including the bombastic conservative in closed door discussions on legislation aimed at blocking President Obama's deportation executive orders, King said Thursday.
"I don't know about included, I've been there," King joked when asked about his participation. "No, I have, I've been in the meetings, and I've engaged in the discussions … we're moving close to moving a bill in draft that we can evaluate," the Iowa Republican said of the discussions on legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security beyond mid-February and that will be voted on next week.
King also had rare praise for McCarthy. "Leader McCarthy has conducted a couple of really excellent meetings that were designed to hear from the people who are most closely engaged … he's working to bring out the will of the group. And that's what any leader should do," King said.
As one of the leaders of the Trouble Makers Caucus that has plagued leadership for four years, King's sunny participation in the process is no small feat for McCarthy, and aides hope it will translate into cooperation as the process of funding DHS moves forward over the coming weeks.
In fact, getting buy-in from conservatives like King — and, more importantly, convincing them that leadership in both chambers are sincere in their efforts to block Obama's orders — is a key part of the GOP strategy to get out from under the self-inflicted looming DHS shutdown crisis.
Publicly, leadership insists Republicans are only focused on defunding the immigration actions and are formulating their plans irrespective of what Democrats do — for example, a Senate filibuster or a presidential veto.
Of course, Speaker John Boehner, McCarthy, and other leaders are smart enough to see the obvious: Any bill that significantly damages Obama's immigration actions won't get anywhere near enough votes to override a veto, assuming it doesn't simply die in the Senate.
But playing ignorant of the political realities in Washington is the point. If Boehner and McCarthy are to avoid a DHS shutdown or public fight with conservatives, "we need to show we're sincere," a veteran Republican operative said this week.
And that means not, at least publicly, planning for the obvious: that after the House bill is finally declared dead, Republicans will need to find a way forward that either creates a veto-proof bipartisan majority in the Senate or that Obama will feel compelled to sign.
According to leadership aides, Boehner and his team will begin to broach the topic of next steps during next week's GOP retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania. "Immigration is going to be a major part of the retreat," a House leadership aide said, stressing that leaders "aren't going to present a plan … we'll discuss options with our members."
What those options may end up being remains unclear, although one potential course of action could be to pass a three-month extension of DHS funding and at the same time begin an expedited committee process in the House and Senate to produce legislation addressing border security issues.
That process, several Republicans said, could provide the party with the ability to open a public debate on immigration on their own terms that is focused on border security and potentially bigger immigration policy legislation.
At that point, the future becomes even murkier. No one can really predict whether leadership's efforts to pass a bill blocking the orders will mollify conservatives, and if not, whether enough of the Republican conference would go along with any sort of compromise.
But Rep. Louie Gohmert, who led a failed effort to block Boehner's speakership this week, remains doubtful of leadership's intentions.
"All we can be sure about is what we do. But our history in terms of our leadership is [they] don't do what we think we need to do, but what somebody else thinks we should do," Gohmert said.
John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
Contact John Stanton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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