A powerful conservative activist group on Friday took the unusual step of urging senators to vote no on a Republican-backed border security amendment to the Senate's immigration bill.
Democrats have already dismissed Texas Sen. John Cornyn's amendment as a "poison pill." But now Heritage Action -- which is tied to the Heritage Foundation -- is arguing that the amendment doesn't go far enough and gives GOP lawmakers cover to back a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"Heritage Action will oppose amendments that, if adopted, will serve as political cover for those senators seeking to justify their support for amnesty," CEO Michael Needham said in a statement.
Cornyn's amendment has become a central focus of the immigration debate in the Senate. Top Republican senators, including Leader Mitch McConnell, have said that the proposal could be the key to winning their votes on the bill.
The amendment would toughen the border security "triggers" in the Gang of Eight bill that must be met before legalized immigrants can seek permanent status. But Heritage Action wants increased border security measures achieved before undocumented immigrants can even receive temporary legal status.
"The amendment does not guarantee any results before the current illegal immigrants transition to Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status, i.e., receive amnesty," the group's statement reads.
Cornyn's amendment has now run into stiff opposition on both the left and the right. The proposal already faced a tough road to passage in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Democrats and some Gang of Eight Republicans have dubbed it a "poison pill" that could derail the entire package, claiming it could place a roadblock in the path to citizenship.
The Gang of Eight has urged Republicans to explore other options to strengthen the bill's border security language.
Now, Republicans in the Senate could be discouraged from supporting it because Heritage Action formulates and circulates a "scorecard" that determines how conservative a member's voting record is. The group said that a vote for the Cornyn amendment will count against their score, an unwelcome development for members who must face GOP primary voters next year.
Cornyn's office said that the senator's amendment has strong GOP backing, listing 13 members who are co-sponsors.
"Sen. Cornyn is pleased with the support he has received and looks forward to calling up his amendment," spokesman Drew Brandewie said in an email.