Turns out Brian Bilbray’s nativist collection of crackpots, the House Immigration Reform Caucus, is not so dormant after all. Like that flu you’d really hoped you kicked, the IRC (we also call them the Bully Brigade) is flaring up again, nominating Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) to be its new chairman and holding a kickoff meeting.
At first glance, Poe is the perfect leader for this gang of misfits. He once compared immigrants to grasshoppers, quoted one of the original Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizards during a speech on the House floor, and expressed beliefs that Mexico is at war with the United States. And in his first hearing this Congress, the newly appointed Vice Chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee engaged in some good old border know-nothingism and confused undocumented immigrants with drug cartels.
But wait. Poe has also very recently said nice things about immigrants — how there should be a path to legal status for them, and how the Republican Party will go the way of the Whigs unless they do something about immigration. Here’s his quote from a Politico op-ed from December:
“We should start a documentation process that includes a photograph, biometric data like a fingerprint and other identifying information. Documentation does not mean citizenship and all of the rights that the term bestows. It means a type of legal status, either temporary or permanent, for some that are here, and it also means a pathway home for those who are here to commit crimes. Those given legal status would contribute to the U.S., primarily by paying taxes, for the benefits that they enjoy by being in the U.S… The GOP’s core principles are sound, but it’s time for a “come to Jesus” meeting. There is a perception among many Americans that the GOP has tried to exclude certain groups, such as Hispanics. Those days are over. We are the party of “we the people, by the people, for the people,” but we must work much harder and embrace a more publicly open-minded approach so that we are not “we the few.” Otherwise, the Republican Party will go the way of the Whigs.”
Could it really be that the new leader of the GOP-Man Immigrant Haters Club is someone open to the idea of accepting and tolerating immigrants? Does that mean there’s hope for a slightly less hard line future for the IRC — and for the GOP? If Ted Poe sets something of a decent example from the top, perhaps even the likes of Rep Steve King (R-IA) can someday be reformed?
After all, the IRC had choices. In picking Poe to be its next chairman, it passed over elevating Rep Lou Barletta (R-PA), a member of Congress so opposed to immigrants that he apparently doesn’t even care when extremist rhetoric gets them killed.
So, we’ll be watching. Does Ted Poe’s new caucus chairmanship augur a different future for the stridently anti-immigrant Bully Brigade? Or will Poe and his fellow IRC members ignore his own Politico op-ed, keep talking like Poe did on Tuesday, and continue driving Republicans toward the fate of the Whigs?