Immigration, gun deals make Tea Party lawmakers restless

House conservatives are growing restless.

With bipartisan deals emerging on guns and immigration, Tea Party lawmakers in the lower chamber are warning their leaders to slow down.

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Longtime immigration reform critic Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was alarmed when saw the bullet point “immigration” on the agenda for Wednesday’s GOP conference meeting.

“Up on our agenda came immigration … [leadership is] going to bring immigration, according to the agenda, sometime to the floor. How do we know we’re going to do immigration when we haven’t talked about it yet? How come don’t I know this, because I’m on the [Judiciary] committee? How come all these meetings on immigration are going on and I’m not being invited to them?” said King, a possible Senate candidate in 2014.

 After the media reported that an immigration deal among the Senate’s Gang of Eight was imminent, a number of conservatives in the House told their leadership on Wednesday that they didn’t want to get steamrolled by the upper chamber.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told The Hill, “We probably won’t know anything until a bill is drafted and presented. 

“Keep in mind, it’s just eight people. It’s not sanctioned by anybody,” he noted, adding “it’s going to be very difficult for me to agree to ratify illegal conduct.” 

Immigration reform activists have talked about getting a bill through the Senate by a large margin and then applying pressure to the GOP-led House to pass the upper chamber’s measure.

King and other conservative lawmakers are demanding to know if their leaders would move the yet-to-be-seen immigration bill through “regular order.” 

GOP leaders did not respond to their rank-and-file members’ questions during open mic time at the end of the party’s conference meeting. However, several key House Republicans sought to allay their worries. 

House GOP Policy Chairman James Lankford (Okla.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) confirmed the House will move its own immigration reform bills through committee and to the floor. 

Goodlatte, who is not part of a secretive bipartisan group of House lawmakers crafting immigration legislation, said he is hard at work on “several pieces” of immigration-related bills that his committee would hold hearings on “soon.” 

The former immigration attorney would not confirm details or timing related to the measures. He would only say “sometime soon, I expect members will start introducing pieces of what could be passed separately or could be passed as a larger bill. At the same time, we’re encouraging and waiting on the [bipartisan House] group that’s meeting.” 

Issues that could be addressed in separate bills include employment verification programs, guest-worker programs and high-skilled labor visas.

A source familiar with Goodlatte’s thinking said the Judiciary panel would start to hold “legislative hearings” on those bills and a bipartisan deal if the House were to agree on language.

But that has not placated the concerns of conservatives fretting that their leaders might try to move a bill that a majority of the GOP conference does not support. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) recently warned Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) not to bring a firearm bill to the floor unless it has a majority of the chamber’s majority. In an op-ed in The Hill, Stockman wrote, “[President] Obama and the Astroturf anti-gun agenda are leading his party into political oblivion, and Boehner is missing an opportunity to solidify and rally a voting and activist base of millions.”

Brooks said he told his leaders on Wednesday that immigration issues “deserve adequate time for discussion.” 

He added, “I would encourage the House leadership to do two things: One, if it doesn’t have the majority support of the GOP conference then it does not pass; and two, that we be allowed to freely make amendments. Pretty straightforward.”

Immigration was broached later in the day at the conservative Republican Study Committee lunch meeting. 

Committee member Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a Tea Party lawmaker and a leader on immigration reform, said his GOP colleagues are particularly concerned about the border security aspect of any comprehensive deal. 

“Republicans in the House need to be convinced that border security issue is addressed, not in the future but now — that there have to be certain triggers that are put into law that have to be met before any legal status is given to anybody,” Labrador said.

Asked when a bill would be ready, Labrador said the House has been careful not to commit to a timeline.

“You’ve seen the Senate pushing a deadline, and you have never seen the House pushing a deadline because we realize how difficult it is to get final agreement on those last few issues,” Labrador said.