Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Sean Hannity took part in past “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” events. He has not.
In 2007, a coordinated campaign of outrage by conservative talk radio hosts over then-President George W. Bush’s push to enact comprehensive immigration reform helped topple the bill. Influencers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity made immigration the biggest topic on their programs, and their efforts worked, as shown in a study by the Pew Research Center. Now they're at it again, this time targeting some of their own.
Fifty conservative radio hosts will gather in Washington next week (April 9-10) to mount another over-the-air fight against the current immigration reform effort, but they aren't going to fight the Democrats who support it; their target is House Republicans.
The event organizer, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, is tight-lipped about the names of hosts who will broadcast their show live from the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., mere steps from Capitol Hill. However, past participants in the annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” radio meeting included Joyce Kaufman and Lars Larson -- with a combined millions of listeners.
FAIR says the event will underscore the Republican divide on the issue. Of particular concern for the group is House Speaker John Boehner’s perceived malleability on immigration reform. The Ohio Republican has come out in support of immigration reform. However, earlier this year, under pressure from immigration reform advocates, Boehner released a set of principles for reform he thought could help negotiate with Democrats on a reform bill that passed the Senate but stalled in the House. But less than a week after the principles’ unveiling, Boehner took them off the table, saying Republicans could not trust President Obama to enforce current immigration laws.
“Our goal, and the goal of the hosts participating in Hold Their Feet to the Fire 2014, is to make sure that the House leadership continues to hear the voices of the American people and is reminded that it is their interests that our immigration laws are supposed to serve,” said FAIR President Dan Stein.
“The focus of our talk [radio] hosts will be on stopping speaker Boehner from enacting legislation that hurts U.S. workers,” said Kristen Williamson, spokeswoman for FAIR.
Conservative groups have been critical of Boehner ever since congressional Republicans cut what the groups deemed a bad budget deal with Democrats in December. Boehner has counter-criticized the groups, dismissing them as having “lost all credibility” for forcing Republican members of Congress to adopt positions they don't want to, and for “misleading their followers.”
While the conservative movement keeps trying to stall any effort in Congress for immigration reform, Democrats are keeping up the fight. One of the most prominent congressional voices for immigration reform is giving Republicans a deadline: Get serious on reform by the summer, or face the consequences of antagonizing Latino voters.
“After almost a year with no serious movement forward on immigration reform in the House, I am beginning to wonder whether the Republicans will get serious about immigration before they run out of time,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., an advocate for reform, speaking on the floor earlier this week. “If Republicans have not gotten an immigration reform bill seriously rolling down the tracks by the time we break for Independence Day… Republicans might as well just fold up the big tent they always talk about. One thing is for sure: Republicans will not be pitching that tent at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue anytime soon.”