Representative Michele Bachmann at a rally outside the US Capitol on June 19, 2013. Photo by George Zornick.
Halfway through a passionate speech Wednesday that railed against comprehensive immigration reform, Representative Michele Bachmann asked if every person under the age of 18, amidst the crowd of hundreds, could join her on the small stage outside the US Capitol.
A surprising number of kids rushed up to the makeshift platform, filling it to a somewhat alarming capacity. Bachmann had to ask some to stand on the grass nearby instead. “We don’t want to collapse. Like our economy,” she cracked.
Then Bachmann hoisted up a lily-white infant. “Say hello to Terra. And say hello to America’s future,” she shouted, as the crowd went nuts. But, Bachmann quickly intoned, “little baby Terra is looking at a very different future.”
This rally, organized by Tea Party groups across the country and promoted by Glenn Beck on his Internet television empire for much of the past week, is basically the GOP’s worst nightmare. As party leaders and the consultant class try to convince the Republican base, 60 percent of which opposes a pathway to citizenship, to support an immigration bill, and as people like Senator John Cornyn frame their opposition as pro-reform but concerned about border security—well, you don’t want Michele Bachmann on the Capitol lawn, holding up white babies and talking about America’s future.
Representatives Bachmann, Steve King and Louie Gohmert organized the rally as a “Lincoln-Douglas” style debate to show Congress—and specifically House Speaker John Boehner—that significant opposition to the idea of immigration reform exists inside and outside Congress.
Such voices have been largely marginalized in the reform debate so far, but the conservative base in the House, as we noted last week, is launching a push to force Boehner only to introduce bills that can pass with a majority of the Republican caucus. That is: only to introduce bills that do not offer a clear pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
There was, to be sure, a strong nativist tone to the rally. American and Gadsden flags abounded, as did the ever-present activists dressed up as Revolutionary War–era patriots. There were also signs: “Immigration Reform = Legalized Invasion.” Another large flag had a Jesus fish stylized with the stars and stripes; “Proud American Christian,” it read. “Shut the door,” read another. “No Amnesty for Illegals,” read several.
Bachmann and the other speakers knew their audience. “It looks like a beautiful family reunion to me. It looks like the American family is here, at your house,” Bachmann began her speech. “Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t real people that the politicians fear more than anything else. We’re seeing a lot of real people here today, and I’m so extremely grateful that you’re here.”