Obscure lawmaker trying to nix Obama's immigration order suddenly thrust in spotlight

  • Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Florida, at the podium

    Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Florida, at the podium  (Facebook)

  • Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Florida, speaking with a constituent.

    Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Florida, speaking with a constituent.  (Facebook)

Conservative radio talk show hosts are taking aim at him for being the architect of a House bill that they say was meant to lull those on the far right into passing a $1.1 trillion spending bill and avoiding a government shutdown.

And groups that want an end to deportations of immigrants who have no criminal background are taking aim at him, too, because the bill – which the House narrowly passed recently – calls for voiding President Barack Obama’s executive order giving a years-long reprieve from deportation to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. 

On Wednesday morning, one of those groups was protesting his pivotal role in that bill outside one of his district offices.

It’s a lot of new-found attention for U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican from Gainesville, Florida who has been one of the House’s most obscure members.

“We feed not only Florida, we feed the nation,” said Tirso Moreno of the Farmworker Association of Florida in a statement. “We do the hardest work at the lowest pay, and to add insult to injury, Rep. Yoho wants us to fear detention and deportation too? He should know better.”

Now, in daily press releases and public comments, Democrats are holding up the Yoho legislation -- originally known as the Executive Amnesty Prevention Act, and later the Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act -- as something of the poster boy for what they depict as the GOP’s anti-immigrant and anti-Latino inclinations. Democrats vow to use it as an issue during the 2016 elections, when Republicans hope to take the Oval Office and keep control of both houses of Congress.

It's the kind of buzz that, when it comes to immigration, tends to swirl around the likes of high-profile hard liners like Reps. Steve King or Steve Scalise, not the first-term congressman whom Politico described as “an obscure back-bencher and large-animal vet” who often interrupted his political campaign to tend to his four-legged patients.

The website noted that during the campaign Yoho -- who billed himself as an outsider running against a Washington establishment type – took an opportunity between two press interviews “to castrate several miniature horses. When he was done, he held up the lopped testicles and declared: ‘Washington needs a few more of these.’”

And so it was that when Republicans were scrambling to hit back at Obama’s unilateral move at the end of November to scale back deportations and allow those who were eligible for relief also to obtain work permits and a several federal benefits, Yoho presented a measure he had been working on since summer.

After going through some tweaking by Republican colleagues who had been immigration lawyers, and getting House Speaker John Boehner’s approval, Yoho introduced the measure, originally known as the Executive Amnesty Prevention Act, and later the Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act.

The measure, which was introduced the same day Obama announced his executive order, said that the president’s move to give relief from deportations to a whole class of would be “null and void and without legal effect.”

It passed 219-197. Seven Republicans opposed it, three GOP members voted merely “present."

Many political observers, and even some within the GOP, term the measure symbolic, since it will not advance in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and Obama has vowed to veto any measure that seeks to undo his executive order.

But Republicans leaders embraced Yoho’s measure nonetheless as something to give to conservatives who were eager to strike back at the president for what they said was an end-run around Congress and a unilateral move to give a break to people who have broken U.S. immigration laws.

Republican leaders hoped the measure would appease conservatives enough to keep them using the spending bill to attack Obama’s executive order, risking another government shutdown.

For Yoho, it’s been a rare moment in the spotlight for a lawmaker who is viewed by conservatives as someone whose support they can count on.

“I had people say it was a symbolic gesture. We didn’t put it in for symbolism, but if they want to use it for a symbolic gesture, okay, let’s use it for that,” Yoho said to Politico. “And that symbolic gesture is, we’re going to hold the president accountable to the rule of law, to the Constitution.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) denounced Yoho’s bill as “cold-hearted.”

Yoho said he thought her comment was itself cold-hearted.

But Yoho’s Florida Republican colleague, Mario Diaz-Balart, who supports a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, defended the vet.

“We’ll agree or disagree with him on a number of different issues but I’ve found him to be a really a straight shooter,” said Diaz-Balart, who voted against Yoho’s bill. “To me, he’s been a breath of fresh air.”

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