- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

EXCLUSIVE:

Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday waded deeper into an issue that has proved perilous to some of his GOP colleagues, throwing his political weight behind an establishment lobby effort to get Congress to reform the country’s immigration system this year.

Mr. Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky and possible 2016 presidential hopeful, participated in a telephone conference call with members of a pro-immigration reform group and reporters in an effort brokered by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.


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The business group that helped set up the call, the Partnership for a New American Economy, immediately blasted an email Wednesday evening to supporters crowing that Mr. Paul had formally joined its pro-reform effort.

The timing of the call only heightened the potential stakes for Mr. Paul just one day after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was shockingly ousted from office in the Virginia Republican primary in favor of a little-known college professor.

Tea party activists who whipped up a get-out-the-vote effort for Mr. Cantor’s opponent said they were motivated by the incumbent’s advocacy for immigration reform, actions on Obamacare and vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.


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Mr. Cantor was the second high-profile Republican to suffer political damage by stepping forward on the immigration issue. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, another potential presidential contender, lost the support of his tea party base when he advocated a plan for immigration that some argued created a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Paul’s staff insisted the senator does not support amnesty.

“He has never advocated for amnesty in any other forum,” said spokesman Brian Darling. “As a matter of fact, Sen. Paul offered an amendment on the immigration bill last year to strengthen border security by forcing annual votes in Congress before any benefits from the bill were authorized.”

Mr. Paul, a longtime favorite of the tea party movement, has made it clear that he believes Congress needs the courage to enact immigration reform. But his latest effort pushed him further into the middle of a strident battle between establishment Republicans like Mr. Norquist who see immigration reform as essential to economic growth, and tea party activists who fear the current efforts in Congress will only lead to de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Those familiar with the efforts to enlist Mr. Paul in the call said if the senator from Kentucky can use his influence with the two factions to find common ground, he would create the base of an expansive coalition to aid his presidential ambitions.

The danger, others noted, is that he could be portrayed as an establishment sympathizer and have some his base turn against him.

One of his chief rivals for tea party affection — both inside the Senate and possibly in the 2016 GOP race — is Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has made clear that he plans to make Republicans uncomfortable if they gravitate toward amnesty.

Mr. Cruz on Wednesday told TellDC, the video partner of The Washington Times, that the Virginia election was a wake-up call to any elected official who goes against their constituencies’ wishes.

“That election is a lesson to every elected official that if we don’t listen to the people who elected us, our tenure here is limited,” the freshman Republican said.

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