For three months, the staunchest opponents of immigration reform have assembled each week in Rep. Steve King's office to privately gripe about Republican leadership and strategize about how to sink efforts to pass a comprehensive reform bill.
"We don't like [House Speaker John] Boehner, we don't like leadership, and we're worried that immigration reform is inevitable," a meeting participant told the Washington Examiner. "We believe we're paddling upstream against a bipartisan current."
In the most recent meeting, held Monday, King complained that he couldn't get Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to return his emails about Wednesday's special conference meeting on immigration; Rep. Michele Bachmann exhorted her colleagues to do as many television and radio appearances as possible; and Rep. Louie Gohmert previewed a bill he planned to introduce that would require four southwestern states to verify that the border was secure before Congress could move ahead on other reform.
A dozen lawmakers attended this week's meeting, held just two days before a critical House Republican meeting expected to set the tone for how the House's handling of immigration reform.
Those assembled represent the Republican Party's right wing, at least on the issue of immigration: King, Bachmann and Gohmert were joined by Reps. Ted Yoho, of Florida; John Fleming, of Louisiana; Mo Brooks, of Alabama; Lamar Smith, of Texas; Walter Jones, of North Carolina; Randy Weber, of Texas; Phil Gingrey, of Georgia; Scott Garrett, of New Jersey; and Tom McClintock, of California.
The group's goal for the week was to get as many opponents of comprehensive immigration legislation up to the microphones during Wednesday's conference meeting. Their worry? That leadership will "stack the deck" against them with speakers supportive of the comprehensive plan.
During Monday's gathering, Fleming complained that the House was even considering the issue of immigration in the first place, according to a source in the room. If Republicans talk about immigration, Fleming reasoned, they were playing on the White House's turf — so the GOP should get on offense, hitting the president on the IRS and NSA scandals, as well as the delay in enforcing the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate.
"The immigration issue has become a shield preventing all the things we should being doing oversight of the president on," King told reporters the next day. "It needs to be taken off the table."
But even within this group, made up of those most adamantly opposed to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, there was at least one lawmaker leaving the door open to addressing a segment of those here without legal status.
The chief concern of those who oppose the comprehensive plan similar to what the Senate has passed is that it provides a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the U.S., which they deride as amnesty for lawbreakers.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who's been on Capitol Hill for more than 25 years, told those gathered in King's office that he opposes "amnesty" under all circumstances — but might be open to an exception for those brought into the United States illegally as children.
King insists that his meetings weren't organized to oppose Republican leadership. But if any theme was emphasized by the attendees the next day, it was frustration with those leaders.
"We feel that they formulated a plan that is not in the best interest of the country," Gohmert said. "They want to be pushing bills through. - Speed doesn't always make for very good laws."
King on Tuesday added: "The establishment wing of this party is disconnected from the rank and file of the Republican Party."