Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainMcCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration Overnight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal Senate lawmakers eye hearing next week for Air Force secretary: report MORE on Tuesday shot down a proposal that would move toward allowing some illegal immigrants to serve in the military.
The Arizona Republican, who is up for reelection in 2016, said there is no way he will accept provisions like those being pushed in the House related to President Obama’s deferred deportation program.
“We’re not doing anything on immigration on the NDAA,” McCain told The Hill, referring to legislation that authorizes spending levels for the military.
The senator, who was the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2008, was given reason to worry on Tuesday after the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling found that only 21 percent of Arizonans approve of the job McCain is doing, while 71 percent disapprove.
The pollster concluded that McCain is vulnerable to a primary challenge from the right, emboldening conservative groups who are already working to take him down.
Some of the right’s disdain for McCain dates back to his work on the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, which he helped negotiate as a member of the so-called Gang of Eight.
While that bill had the strong backing of the business community, it stalled in the House amid a conservative outcry over citizenship provisions that were condemned as amnesty.
Immigration reform is particularly controversial in Arizona, a border state that has struggled for years to stem the tide of illegal border crossings.
The latest immigration fight centers on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, for people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee last week adopted amendments that would ask the Pentagon to review whether those immigrants, whom Democrats refer to as “Dreamers,” could be made eligible for military service.
McCain said the provisions would derail the defense bill, which has passed Congress for 53 consecutive years.
“It would not be accepted by the House. I’ve got to have a House agreement; they would never agree to putting that on the NDAA,” McCain said. “If I put it on the defense bill, what happens in the House? The whole bill crashes.
“The defense bill is for defense, not for Dreamers.”
The defense policy bill with the immigration provisions is set to hit the House floor next week, though some conservatives are working to ensure that they are stripped out.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the most prominent GOP opponents of illegal immigration, told The Hill he is drafting an amendment to remove the immigration provisions.
“There are a lot of members angered by this,” he said.
Heritage Action, an influential conservative group, has warned that the DACA-related parts of the defense authorization could “jeopardize the bill’s status as must-pass.”
King warned, even policies that merely suggest allowing illegal immigrants to enlist in the military could encourage the Obama administration to pursue more unilateral moves beyond the executive actions in 2012 and 2014.
“We’ve seen the administration take huge license when it didn’t have the authority at all,” King said.
But Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a top Democratic target in 2016 who represents a large Hispanic population, plans to offer a competing amendment next week that would outright allow illegal immigrants to serve in the military in exchange for legal status.
House GOP leaders prevented Denham’s proposal from getting a vote during consideration of last year’s defense authorization bill.
The House Rules Committee, which acts as an arm of leadership, is expected to announce next week which amendments will be eligible for floor votes.
Unlike last year, when they could simply block Denham’s proposal from reaching the floor, Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) and his team have to deal with language that’s already in the bill.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to take up its draft of the policy roadmap next week.
— Updated at 8:00 p.m.