Published July 05, 2013
After spending weeks dealing with the fallout from the IRS targeting scandal, Tea Party groups are starting to focus their energy on the immigration bill -- a development that could imperil President Obama's hopes for a speedy approval.
Before adjourning for the Fourth of July holiday break, the Senate easily approved its version of the legislation. The bill now rests with the House, where Republicans say they will take up their own version.
Obama, during his Africa trip, called on the House to "get this done" before the August recess.
But House lawmakers already are hearing conservative calls to slow things down. And if the debate leaks into August -- when Congress takes a nearly month-long recess -- the prospects could get even more wobbly. The Tea Party, during the 2009 August recess, famously helped stall ObamaCare by storming town hall meetings and other events.
Tea Party groups may be preparing to again mount demonstrations during the summer break. And even if the House passes a bill this month, it's unlikely the two chambers would be able to agree on a unified piece of legislation by August -- leaving the work unfinished going into recess.
While Tea Partiers await that opening, they're already beginning to stir the pot.
Earlier this week, dozens of conservative groups including the Cincinnati Tea Party sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner urging him to declare the Senate package "dead on arrival." They complained that the Senate bill, by virtue of giving up to 11 million illegal immigrants a shot at legal status, would make life harder for U.S. workers "struggling to reach the bottom rung of the economic ladder."
Whether the Tea Party will be able to reprise the kind of grassroots battle it waged on the health care law remains to be seen. On health care, the movement benefited from a Republican Party and base that largely was on the same page -- that is, against ObamaCare.
On immigration, the party is split. Fourteen Republican senators voted for the bill that passed the Senate last week. Several influential conservative economists have come forward to argue that immigration legislation would be a boon for the economy, with newly legalized workers and an enhanced legal immigration system giving the economy the jump-start it needs.
Tea Party supporters say those conservatives are falling for the ruse that the so-called "amnesty" would coincide with enhanced border security. They warn that the mass legalization will trump any security improvements.
And while political strategists see immigration as an important issue that the Republican Party should not ignore, Tea Partiers have a powerful piece of leverage at their disposal -- the ability to threaten wavering lawmakers with a primary challenge.
In South Carolina, Tea Party activists on Monday staged protests at the offices of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a key Republican who helped draft the bill.
Ron Hughes, with the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition, told Fox News that activists would "love" to see Graham face a primary challenge.
"We wanted a full-time conservative senator, and he has not done that for us," he said.
Graham has faced Tea Party angst before, but House lawmakers who owe their seats to Tea Party support might be hesitant to spurn the activists.
House Republicans say they will proceed at their own pace, on their own bills, when it comes to immigration. Last Sunday, they shrugged off a prediction by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that the House would simply pass the Senate bill.
"The House will not simply take up and pass the Senate bill," a Boehner spokesman said. "Our legislation will reflect our principles, particularly on border security."