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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, considers 2013 a win for opponents of legalizing illegal aliens in the United States, but he fears a bruising fight in the new year against congressional Democrats and likely his own leadership.
In the wake of President Obama's 2012 re-election and Democrats retaining the U.S. Senate, comprehensive immigration reform was considered by many to be as good as done. In May, Senate overwhelmingly approved the so-called "Gang of Eight" plan, which conservative critics immediately labeled as amnesty.
For King and other opponents of this approach to immigration reform, their plan was pretty simple.
"We formed a group in my office back in February to do battle with what was emerging from the Senate and what was starting to emerge from the House, against their amnesty legislation that was coming. Our goal was to get through the first month, then the second month and could we get to Memorial Day and then the Fourth of July, then Labor Day? Now could we get all the way to Christmas and we essentially have," King said.
"I would count that a success looking back, but looking forward we've got some real challenges," said King, who added that he cannot see what good the GOP leadership's piece-by-piece approach to the legislation would accomplish.
"Explain to me how any of this legislation in the House can pass the House, pass the Senate, get to the president's desk for his signature that looks anything like something we would support over here," he said. "Right now, no one's been able to answer that question."
King said the Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, has passed a good domestic enforcement bill, which he says has no chance of passage in the Senate. The panel has also approved a guest-worker program for agricultural workers that King said is tantamount to amnesty for half-a-million people in the U.S. illegally.
While he takes House Speaker John Boehner at his word that the House GOP will never go to conference on the Senate's immigration bill, King said the danger of the House being forced to vote on anything negotiated with the Senate leaves him with no choice but to oppose every piece of immigration legislation.
"I strongly believe that only bad can come from passing anything out of the House that has to do with immigration. It can only be a vehicle to get components of the Gang of Eight attached to it," he said, while offering procedural option to move on some smaller items.
"The speaker can give Harry Reid a call and say, 'Why don't you start a bill over there that is a companion to a House bill that actually doesn't give amnesty? Send it over to us and we can send it to the president's desk. That way we don't have to wonder about whether they will keep their word or not," said King, who added that allowing a bill to go to conference has no silver lining for him.
"It splits the Republican Party, and it changes the subject from Obamacare," he said. The president and Democrats win. Americans lose."
Although King applauds Boehner for wanting nothing to do with the Senate immigration bill, he is more skeptical about Boehner's overall approach to Obamacare. In addition to hiring Arizona Sen. John McCain's former chief of staff, Rebecca Tallent, to shepherd the immigration debate, other reports suggest the speaker is holding off on any immigration votes until after many state filing deadlines pass and incumbent GOP members won't have to worry about a primary challenge if they vote for the legislation.
"Both of those issues are valid and of significant concern to me," said King, who notes that the recent Texas filing deadline is a big deal given the number of Republicans in that state.
He sees the Tallent hire as an even bigger sign that his coalition is in for some rough waters.
"If you were to reach outside the halls of Congress and hire someone from anyone in America to send a strong signal that you were committed to advancing some form of comprehensive immigration reform, Becky Tallent would likely be the No. 1 person that you would hire," King said.
In addition to serving in Sen. McCain's office and essentially authoring three previous Senate immigration bills, Tallent also worked for former Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., whom King describes as an "open borders" advocate.
Is Boehner's hiring of Tallent anything more than a clear-cut sign that he intends to embrace the type of immigration reform that McCain has championed in the past?
"I think it says exactly that. Why would you hire someone whose whole track record was one thing and think they're going to be able to run a different direction?" asked King, who likened the hire to choosing a relief pitcher with the bases loaded and the game on the line.
"I think that she's a high-value relief pitcher for the other team," King said.
The congressman is quick to point out that he is in favor of legal immigration but that there is world of difference between legal immigration and what many in Washington want to do.
"I just spoke at a naturalization ceremony last Friday in Sioux City, Iowa. I had to pause a couple of times because it emotionally means so much to me that people that respected our laws then become Americans by choice," he said. "But they need to respect our laws, and that's the fight that's ahead of us. If we allow for rewards for lawbreakers, we get more lawbreakers and in the process, the rule of law is chiseled away and you can never restore it again in our lifetime at least with regard to immigration if these things pass into law."