As the Senate Judiciary Committee marks up the bipartisan "Gang of Eight's" attempt to rewrite American immigration law, another gang across the Capitol — striking as much for its small numbers as for the intensity of its views — organized its own effort to stop the Senate bill.
"You all know how badly I despise Obamacare. I have spent years of my life fighting against Obamacare," the group's leader, Iowa conservative Steve King, said. "It's terrible, it diminishes the destiny of America. But if I have to choose, if it came down to this: if there was an offer that you are going to get one or the other and you have to choose one, I would take Obamacare and try to live with that than ever accept this amnesty plan. Because the amnesty plan is far, far worse than Obamacare because we can't put it back in a bottle."
King and five other House conservatives argued that Republicans have been swindled into thinking that immigration reform must pass this year for the survival of the party. They anticipated that the opposition to the plan would grow as the bill moves through the Senate. King said he is deeply concerned that the House would pass several small bills and then go to conference with the Senate, a procedural maneuver he warned could mean an eventual up or down vote in the House without amendments, passing by virtue of strong support from Democrats.
"I'm incredulous with the conclusion that they drew when they woke up the day after the election," King said. "They didn't have any data to work with…this is a huge boon for Democrats. They have known that for a long time."
King has long been critical of immigration efforts that could eventually grant citizenship to illegal immigrants.
Mo Brooks, a congressman from Alabama, cited the numbers found in a recent (and widely criticized) Heritage Institute study that projected the cost of the bill to be $6.3 trillion.
"America cannot afford to open a massive immigration floodgate any more than it can afford an amnesty plan rewarding illegal conduct while adding $6.3 trillion to it's already dangerous and exploding national debt," he said.
All of the men said they felt strongly that legal immigration was a good thing but current laws were not being properly enforced.
"If the rule of law is not observed then you have chaos. No body behind me or anyone who supports our position wants a closed border," said Rep. Louie Gohmert. "Immigration is a life spring, it brings additional life and rejuvenation to this country. But we have to make sure we don't get overwhelmed by those who want to destroy us."
It was difficult, however, to miss the fact that King had only rallied six members of a very conservative Republican caucus Tuesday (Reps. Lamar Smith and Lou Barletta were slated to attend but could not be there). When asked by BuzzFeed why he thought that more conservatives weren't speaking out against the Senate bill, Rep. John Fleming said he hoped his fellow partisans would come around.
"The script has already been written by the media that for some reason we have to pass amnesty to survive as a party," Fleming said. "The last time we passed amnesty it was under a Republican president and it didn't seem to win many hearts and minds to vote Republican. I think people will start to ask 'If that didn't work before, do we really want to get on that train?"
Rep. Steve Stockman, a Texas conservative, predicted that sentiment against the immigration reform bill would steadily grow as more people speak out against it.
"They have a gang of eight, we are going to have a gang of millions, the people are stronger than the gang of eight," he said.
Kate Nocera is the managing editor for BuzzFeed’s Washington, DC bureau. Nocera is a recipient of the National Press Foundation's 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting on Congress.
Contact Kate Nocera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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