A Conservative Warning on Immigration

Reid Wilson

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo can see it coming: Even if the House passes a perfectly conservative bill to reform the nation's immigration system, the Senate "Gang of Eight" will water it down in a conference committee and leave Republicans little choice but to get rolled and vote for a bill they don't like.

His advice to his former colleagues: Don't bring up a bill at all.

"Where is this national push? Are people rioting in the streets for immigration reform? It's so odd in a way that it has achieved this level of attention and involvement," Tancredo said in an interview Wednesday. "I would be hesitant to bring up any bill simply because of what would happen in a conference committee."

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that any bill to hit the House floor would need support from a majority of the Republican conference, both before and after a conference committee. But Tancredo, who made his name in Washington as crusader against illegal immigration, said he didn't trust Boehner to appoint the right members to the bicameral panel tasked with reconciling the two bills.

"A bill comes from the Senate. It's lousy. The Republicans go, 'Oh, this is terrible, so we'll write our own bill.' And it'll be a much better bill. It goes to conference and [Boehner] appoints squishy Republicans to the conference committee. The bill comes back looking just like the Senate bill, or something pretty close. A whole bunch of Republicans can drop off at that point, going, 'Oh, this is terrible.' But they'll have enough squishes to join with Dems to pass it," Tancredo said.

And Tancredo isn't buying the often-made argument that passing immigration reform would be good politics for the GOP. Just look, he says, at the messenger.

"The purpose is political, of course, everybody knows that. It is to increase the number of Democrats that will be available to that party to turn into voters. The idea that this is somehow going to help Republicans is crazy," he said. "I'd love to be at this table, right, when you have [Sen. Chuck] Schumer and [Sen. Bob] Menendez saying, 'You know what you guys, we've got this great bill, and it's going to help you win a presidential election.' "

"Who believes this shit? Who in the world falls for this? So the question is, why are you doing this? You can't be that stupid. I don't believe [Sen. Marco] Rubio is naive. So if you're not naive, what is it? Duplicitous? For what purpose? Maybe you feel you have a niche that you're going to try to get in for a presidential campaign," he added. "The idea that they're doing anything that would benefit Republicans in the long run is ludicrous. Hispanics vote for Democrats for exactly the same reason that other people vote for Democrats: They want ObamaPhones! They want big government! It's got nothing to do with immigration!"

Tancredo is making his second bid to win the governor's mansion in Colorado, the state he represented in Congress for five terms. But he's keeping his eye on the immigration fight in Washington; Tancredo said he had spoken several times with Rep. Steve King, a longtime ally who is leading the House opposition to an immigration reform bill.

During the interview, in which he laid out his case against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, Tancredo said he would maintain his focus on immigration while talking up the importance of education. And while Democrats will attempt to pillory him as an anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic zealot, Tancredo says he's ready to push back.

"The first thing you have to do is to disabuse people of the notion that your position on immigration has anything to do with race or ethnicity. It doesn't, it never has. They can search every word I have ever uttered on this subject, and there are a lot. Anything I've ever written, and there's tons," he said. "I don't have a Paula Deen moment out there."