Immigration reform: New flashpoint for conservatives?

Updated
Iowa Congressman Steve King
Iowa Congressman Steve King
AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

House conservatives could soon have a new top bill to hate, with influential GOP critics saying Tuesday they would choose Obamacare over the comprehensive immigration bill proposed by the Senate’s “Gang of Eight.”

As the Senate Judiciary Committee’s arduous markup of the bipartisan immigration overhaul continued on Tuesday, Iowa Rep. Steve King, a vocal opponent of the president’s signature health care bill, said he was more up in arms over the proposal which would allow a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants rather than comprehensive healthcare reform.

“You all know how badly I despise Obamacare. I’ve spent years of my life fighting against Obamacare,” King, a Republican, told reporters in a press conference Tuesday. “It’s terrible and it diminishes the destiny of America, but if I had to choose, if it came down to this, if there somehow was an offer that said you’re going to get one or the other and you have to choose one, I would take Obamacare and try to live with that before I would ever accept this amnesty plan. Because this amnesty plan is far, far worse than Obamacare. That genie cannot be put back in the bottle.”

King’s comments underscore the difficult path the bipartisan legislation has in the House even if it does pass the Senate. Politico reports that the House’s bipartisan group, which hasn’t yet released its own bill, is at odds over a “trigger” to do away with the legalization process if an employment verification program isn’t in place within five years. Democrats say that requirement is too harsh, but Republicans are remaining steadfast on its inclusion.

Rep. Steve Stockman also promised pushback on the legislation, saying they would counter the Gang of Eight bipartisan bill with a “Gang of Millions.”

“They have a Gang of Eight? We’re going to have a Gang of Millions, because you can watch this bill as it processes through the House committee, that they will rise up against it and it will fail,” the Texas Republican said. “Because the people are stronger than the Gang of Eight. We have a Gang of Millions behind us.”

As House Republicans were preparing for the looming immigration fight, the Senate Judiciary’s markup of the Gang of Eight bill resumed for day two. NBC’s Carrie Dann reported that the committee unanimously approved an amendment from ranking member, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, to fix security issues with student visas, especially under scrutiny in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, with a friend of one of the suspects in the U.S. on such visas.

Another amendment from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., failed that would have required verification for visa holders through biometric screening when leaving the U.S. An amendment from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to raise the cap on visas for high-skilled foreign workers was also voted down.

Immigration reform: New flashpoint for conservatives?

Updated