By Russell Berman - 05/14/13 06:10 PM EDT
Rep. Steve King (R) hates the Senate immigration bill even more than he hates ObamaCare.
The Iowa conservative has spent the last three years denouncing the 2010 healthcare overhaul as an encroachment upon personal liberty that puts the U.S. on a path to moral and economic ruin.
“You all know how badly I despise ObamaCare,” King told reporters at a press conference he organized with other House GOP opponents of comprehensive immigration reform. “I have spent years of my life fighting against ObamaCare. It’s terrible. It diminishes the destiny of America.
“But if I have to choose,” he continued, “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, a six-term House veteran who recently passed on a 2014 Senate run, is trying to reprise his role as a chief opponent of a proposal that he says will grant “amnesty” to immigrants who violated the law by entering the U.S.
In 2006 and 2007, King was a leading critic of the last major effort to enact immigration reform that combined a path to citizenship with border security enhancements and a guest-worker program.
He was joined on Tuesday by five other House conservatives, and he said two more lawmakers wanted to attend but couldn’t. The members said they had the support of the grassroots to defeat the bill.
“They have a Gang of Eight. We have a gang of millions,” Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) said. “It will fail on its own merits.”
The Republicans argued that the border-security provisions in the Senate bill lacked teeth and said the path to citizenship represented an affront to the rule of law.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) used the example of the Boston Marathon bombing to argue that the legalization of 11 million people would undermine national security. The suspected bombers were both immigrants to the U.S.
“There will be more threats in this, just as there were in Boston,” Gohmert said. “It is a danger to this country.”
King has acknowledged in recent months that the politics of immigration reform have shifted rapidly since the November election, and he and his allies now face an uphill battle to stop legislation that has support from much of the Republican establishment in Washington.
They spoke outside the Capitol as the Senate Judiciary Committee was spending its second day on a markup of the immigration legislation, turning aside amendments aimed at gutting the 844-page bill.
King praised the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Va.), but he suggested that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) might not share his view of the issue.
“If they aren’t on our side, I’d suggest that they are convertibles,” King said. “And what’s going on here today is to help them undergo a conversion.”
He said a top worry was that, even if the House passed piecemeal immigration reform more palatable to conservatives, a joint House-Senate committee could negotiate a compromise favorable to Democrats.
“I’m concerned that House leadership could appoint a conference committee, and that that conference committee could produce from it some version of the amnesty bill that’s in the Senate and send it to the floor, un-amendable, for an up-or-down vote,” King explained. “We could be stuck with a very bad bill on the way to the president. So I’m most concerned about that.”