Rep. Sam Johnson is unlikely founder of bipartisan House ‘Gang of 8′ on immigration

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rep. Sam Johnson of Plano has clearly laid out his position on the immigration issue.

“If you are here legally, you ought to be rewarded. If you are here illegally, you ought to be deported,” he likes to say.
He has voted to restrict immigration and opposes any form of amnesty, including expedited citizenship for children through the DREAM Act.

So it may be surprising to learn that Johnson is not only a part of secret bipartisan group discussing immigration reform, but he is the founding Republican member. The house ‘Gang of 8′ made their first official statement earlier this month, applauding the Senate plan for immigration reform.

A recent piece in CQ Roll Call gives insight into the group’s formation, calling Johnson an “unlikely immigration negotiator.”

The story unfolds with Johnson as the group’s founding Republican member. Rep. Xavier Becerra, a Democrat from California, pitched the idea of having broad immigration discussions to Johnson in March 2009. After some encouragement from now speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio, Johnson jumped on board.

“Boehner and I talked and he asked me to do it, and I said I would,” Johnson said.

Johnson recruited his political ally and close friend John Carter of Round Rock. For four years, Johnson and Carter met with other members of the House to draft immigration reform.

Johnson is described as both the “moral compass” and “key salesman” of the group in the article. A Vietnam War prisoner of war, Johnson’s heroic status gives him authority in Congress. In February, the House of Representatives commemorated the 40 year anniversary of “Operation Homecoming” by honoring Johnson on the floor in their opening statements.

“I liken filing against Sam Johnson in a primary as serving roasted puppies at a PETA convention. It’s just, politically, the biggest violation of etiquette,” said Michael Openshaw, a conservative activist in Plano, Texas.

A GOP house aid told CQ that Johnson is loved by everyone and can do “whatever he wants.”

And it appears Johnson wants compromise. Speaking at a discussion on immigration in San Antonio yesterday, Carter said the path to citizenship they will propose is tougher than the Senate’s, but “not as bad” as some might assume.

“It has compassion. It allows people to be human beings, to live a normal life, to have a job, to take care of their family, to pay their taxes, to obey the law and go about their lives,” Carter said.

While Carter wouldn’t reveal details of the plan, he said citizenship for young people will be addressed in the plan.

In an email to Openshaw, Johnson Chief of Staff Dave Heil said the congressmen doesn’t want reform to be put off due to disagreements.

“In Sam’s view, sitting around and doing nothing is a great disservice to his constituency, his state and his country. He doesn’t want to be having this de