Right fights back on immigration

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Conservative activists have launched an election-year effort to get Republicans to sign a pledge that renounces President Obama's immigration reform movement. 

Critics of the Senate-passed immigration bill are copying a tactic that has proved wildly successful in battling tax increases.

They are pushing Republican candidates to sign a pledge to oppose three key components of Obama’s reform agenda. In the past week, it has become an issue in several competitive Republican primaries around the country.

It is modeled on the concept that anti-tax activist Grover Norquist made famous with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

Laura Ingraham, a popular conservative radio host, is squarely behind the effort, which is sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform Congressional Task Force. She is tracking which members of Congress and candidates sign the pledge.

In Mississippi, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is challenging Sen. Thad Cochran in the Republican primary, this week announced his support for the pledge during an appearance on Ingraham’s show.

“I did sign it and I believe in it,” he told her. “I think it’s time for us to focus on the America worker for a change. That should be our focus.

“What we’ve seen over the last many years is wage stagnation, we’ve seen growth in welfare programs, we’ve even seen shrinking workforce participation,” he added.

The pledge requires that signatories promise to oppose any form of work authorization for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in United States. It binds them to oppose legislation that would increase the number of legal immigrants allowed in the country and reject proposals to increase the number of guest workers.

New York Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who is challenging Rep. Richard Hanna in the Republican primary in New York’s 22nd Congressional District, has signed it. So have three Republicans running in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) in Alabama’s 6th District.

Cochran told The Hill Thursday that he would have to read the immigration pledge carefully before making a decision.

“I haven’t looked at it,” he said. “I think I’ll read it.”

He said he wouldn’t let his “opponent or any pressure group try to get commitments from me about how to vote on something that isn’t an issue before the Senate.”

Ingraham blasted Will Brooke, a businessman and prominent contender in the race for Bachus’s seat in Alabama, after he initially declined to sign the pledge.

“If you don’t sign this pledge, then you’re not someone who believes in true border enforcement and you’re someone, apparently, who trusts the Obama administration to implement immigration reform,” she said.

Ingraham touted to her listeners Brooke’s rivals, state Sen. Scott Beason, businessman Tom Vigneulle and state Rep. Paul DeMarco, for signing the pledge.

The rough treatment caused Brooke to change his mind quickly. His staff called Ingraham’s staff after the show to say the candidate would sign the pledge.

Renee Gamela, a spokesman for Hanna, did not respond to a request for comment on the pledge.

So far, former Wall Street trader and radio host Frank Roche, who is running to unseat Renee Ellmers (R) in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, and economics professor David Brat, who is running against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), have also signed the pledge. Ellmers and Cantor have not. 

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday afternoon blasted House Republican leaders for not facing down conservatives in their party who oppose granting legal status to millions of immigrants.

“The reason the House has done nothing on immigration is because House Republicans have handed the gavel of leadership on immigration to far-right extremists like Congressman Steve King [(R-Iowa)],” he said in a fiery floor speech, making reference to one of the chief opponents of the Senate immigration bill. 

Activists who oppose granting legal status to people living in the country illegally as well as higher immigration flows have stepped up their activity in the wake of recent signs that immigration reform legislation could hit the House floor this summer.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said over the April recess that he is hell-bent on passing immigration reform this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the No. 4-ranking House Republican, said a bill could reach the floor by August. 

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes lower immigration flows, said the pledge is useful because many Republicans state they are opposed to “amnesty" but nevertheless favor treating illegal immigrants nearly as leniently. He said these self-proclaimed anti-amnesty Republicans may also be tempted to support reforms that would greatly expand the rate of legal immigration.

“George W. Bush said he was against amnesty,” Krikorian noted. The Bush administration pushed comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2006 and 2007.

“Grover’s pledge has been remarkably successful,” he added. “Pledges like this work best if they are very clear and simple.”

Schumer warned that Republicans would never win over Hispanic and other centrist voters as long as they continue to oppose immigration reform.

“If Republicans continue to kowtow to the hard right on immigration reform, they’ll consign themselves to being the minority party for a decade,” he said.

Proponents of immigration reform have touted recent statements by centrist Republicans pledging support for granting legal status to illegal immigrants.

Illinois GOP Reps. Aaron Schock and Adam Kinzinger announced late last month they would support legalization of people living in the United States illegally.