John McCain and his fellow immigration gangsters called about 50 business lobbyists to the Capitol with a simple message: Pony up and fight. Delivering some of his famous “straight talk,” McCain told them they weren’t spending enough money and were losing the battle for comprehensive immigration reform. What’s needed, McCain said, was a national, coordinated campaign to push the House to act on immigration reform.
MORE FROM NATIONAL JOURNAL
- Why Nearly Everyone in Congress Has a Leadership PAC These Days
- Michigan's Amash Quietly Tries to Build a National Brand
- 10 Hollywood Bureaucrats We Wish Were Real
“This is a political campaign. We’ve gotta have communications. We gotta have coordination. We gotta have advertising. We gotta have a real political campaign with the goal of winning an agreement from the House to sit down and negotiate with us with a bill. That’s our goal,” McCain told National Journal.
But the marching orders managed to anger and alienate both the lobbyists in the room and House Republicans they are supposed to be targeting. Neither group wants senators telling them how to do their jobs.
“Wow, these people are really trying to [screw] us,” one House GOP aide said of the meeting.
House Republicans are in no mood to be targeted by McCain, Democrat Chuck Schumer, and other members of the Senate "Gang of Eight," the bipartisan coalition that pushed immigration reform through the chamber.
“These people are wasting their money. They’re wasting their time, because the House is going to do what the House is going to do,” said a House GOP leadership aide.
And most likely, that means the House will take up bills dealing with border security, agriculture, and high-tech visas, and, maybe, providing the so-called Dreamers, children brought to America illegally, a legal option for staying in the country, aides say. But a pathway to citizenship for most immigrants in the country illegally, like the one included in the Senate bill, is probably a nonstarter.
In an interview, McCain said they’re trying to “persuade” House Republicans.
“It’s not a hardball or attack-ad kind of thing. We’re not trying to alienate any member of the House. The last thing we want to do is alienate any member of the House,” he said. “But we do think that we are not getting our message across in as effective a fashion as we can if we mount a real campaign.”
Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform are losing the grassroots battle to opponents who are describing the Senate bill as amnesty, McCain told the group, according to people in the room. McCain told the lobbyists not to push for the Senate bill, but to advocate for all its component parts.
Sen. Lindsey Graham told the group that if the House passes border security and Dreamer legislation, the Senate could then try to negotiate a comprehensive package with the House during a conference committee, attendees said.
The senators told lobbyists to focus on persuading House Republicans to let legislation come to the floor, even if it they end up voting against it—an attempt to end-run House Speaker John Boehner’s pledge not to bring anything to the floor that doesn’t have support from a majority of Republicans.
Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez added that any final bill would have to include pathway to citizenship. The meeting also included Gang of Eight members Jeff Flake, Michael Bennet, and Dick Durbin. Only GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who has refused to pressure the House to act, was absent, leading lobbyists to refer to it as the “Gang of Seven” meeting.
The groups attending included FWD.us, the Partnership for a New Economy, ITI, TechNet, CompTIA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Bible, Badges, and Business, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, Oracle, Cisco, Compete USA, Americans for Tax Reform, PhRMA, Texas Instruments, IBM, and the National Restaurant Association, according to people who were there.
At the meeting, the senators gave out a list of about 120 House Republicans who they believe could vote for some kind of reform and told the lobbyists to target them over the August recess.
The influence class did not greet the suggestion kindly.
“To be hauled up to the Capitol to have a list shoved in my face—jeez, the thought never occurred to me that we should put a list together,” one attendee said sarcastically. “It’s of questionable benefit.”
In fact, many of the groups in the room have already started laying plans for the August recess that include attending town-hall meetings, pursuing earned and paid media campaigns, and meeting with lawmakers in their districts. There is no central campaign structure; rather, the groups are coordinating among themselves in an attempt to cover as much ground, and have as big an impact, as possible.
Lobbyists were tight-lipped about specifics of their plans, arguing that they don’t want to tip their hands to opponents. Several criticized the senators’ decision to hold such a large meeting, saying it resulted in leaks that have already compromised their thinking and strategy.
“There’s concern that the Gang of Seven are seen as the godfathers with the strings,” said another attendee. “Half the Republicans don’t like their own leadership, and they don’t listen. They sure as hell don’t want the Senate leadership telling them what to do.”
Senators want the groups to reconvene and report back on July 25.
“If seven senators call me and say we think you should go, you go,” an attendee said of the first meeting. “But it doesn’t mean I have to go back.”