Conservative lawmakers rebuke Mitch McConnell on immigration

The Hill — House conservatives are taking aim at a new target: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Tea Party lawmakers on Wednesday directed their ire at the Kentucky Republican after Senate leaders signaled they don’t have the votes to pass a House-approved bill that would fight President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

It’s a new tack for the Tea Party members in the House, who have repeatedly criticized Obama, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

House lawmakers say their conservative allies in the Senate have a responsibility to force the upper chamber to aggressively challenge Obama’s actions. But the most pointed attacks were directed at McConnell, who took over the top Senate job just two weeks ago.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a Tea Party favorite, went so far as to suggest that if McConnell and Senate Republicans aren’t willing to stand up to Obama, maybe they should hand back power to Reid.

“It’s uncanny to me that our leadership … is already sending the message that we’ve already lost this battle,” Labrador said Wednesday at a gathering of conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“It’s high time that Mitch McConnell stand up and say, ‘this is what we are fighting for in the Senate,’ ” he added. “That’s definitely what he said during his campaign, so let’s make sure he does it now as the majority leader.”

At a bicameral GOP retreat last week, McConnell said Senate Republicans would “try” to pass the aggressive House bill, but made no promises. In fact, in a closed-door meeting at the Hershey, Pa., retreat, McConnell told Republicans that the political reality was that the House bill could not win the 60 Senate votes needed to defeat a Democratic-led filibuster, said lawmakers who were in the room.

Republicans control 54 seats in the Senate.

What is especially galling to Tea Party lawmakers is that McConnell acknowledged defeat before the fight had really begun.

Asked for comment, a McConnell spokesman referred back to the leader’s remarks in Hershey that the Senate would attempt to approve the House-passed measure.

The bill that cleared the House last week would stave off a shutdown next month of the Homeland Security Department (DHS), funding it through September. But the legislation would also block funding for Obama’s plan to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, as well as overturn his 2012 executive order that let millions of people brought to the U.S. illegally as children remain in the country.

Obama has vowed to veto anything that challenges his unilateral actions, and many Senate Republicans don’t want to jeopardize a Homeland Security shutdown by tying appropriations to the controversial immigration provisions.

The intraparty feuding is nothing new, but it comes at a time when McConnell and Boehner are trying to demonstrate that newly empowered Republicans can govern after being the minority party in Washington during the Obama years. McConnell also has one eye on the 2016 election, when Republicans will defend 24 Senate seats to the Democrats’ 10.

The conservative attacks on McConnell also undermine Boehner’s efforts to reassert his power following Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, in which the president vowed to veto any Iran sanctions bill amid tense nuclear negotiations. By Wednesday morning, Boehner had publicly invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to talk about the threat from Iran before a joint session of Congress next month, but GOP divisions over immigration quickly crept into the news cycle.

Boehner has long had to contend with raucous conservatives in his conference, and Reid has been a favorite punching bag of conservatives for years. But after just two weeks leading the new Senate majority, it’s McConnell who’s now facing the wrath of Capitol Hill conservatives. They’re particularly peeved by reports that GOP leaders are now eyeing a backup plan that would separate DHS funding from their efforts to fight Obama’s immigration moves.

“The answer to every offered suggestion is, ‘No, we can’t do that. No, we can’t take on the president. No, that will never work,’ ” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said at the same “Conversations with Conservatives” event, moderated by the Heritage Foundation.

“We didn’t promise we were going to cop out. Plan B always seems to be not taking on this president.”

Even conservative Senate allies weren’t immune from criticism from their House counterparts.

Both Labrador and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) called on fellow conservatives, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), to use Senate procedural tactics to force a vote on the House bill.

“It’s also high time that Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and others decide that they are going to start fighting in the Senate,” Labrador said.

Salmon recalled Paul’s nearly 13-hour filibuster in 2013 when he protested against using drone strikes to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. The Arizonan suggested if Paul and the others are serious about fighting Obama’s immigration actions, they should show “leadership” and carry out a talking filibuster and hold up business on the Senate floor.

“I’m speaking to our conservative counterparts on the Senate side who have said time and time again that you and the House need to do this, you and the House need to do that,” Salmon said. “Well, you know what? Now it’s in the Senate, and they have an opportunity to shine and do their job, and I hope they do. …

“Instead of just saying the House is the wall of last defense, that’s a cop-out,” Salmon continued. “It’s time for us all to be doing everything that we possibly can to force the president to do things in a constitutional way. … One person [in the Senate] can foul up the whole place — I’m anxiously awaiting to see how they do it.”