House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) on Friday fought back against charges from conservatives that he supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, along the lines of President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.
"The congressman is and always has been adamantly opposed to blanket amnesty," a spokesman for Sessions said in a statement to TheBlaze. "He remains firmly committed to securing our borders and protecting our nation's rule of law."
Sessions created a controversy during a late Wednesday night Rules Committee hearing, which was convened to set up rules for how the House would debate and vote on legislation to nullify Obama's immigration action. After Democrats argued that Republicans want to deport up to 13 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, Sessions shot back that no one in a leadership position in the Republican Party is suggesting mass deportations.
"There is no one in responsible Republican leadership… that has said we should deport 13 or 11 million people," he said. "And I find it extremely distasteful that people would come here and suggest things that we have not suggested."
At 4 hours and 3 minutes into the video of the hearing, Sessions then said Republicans still want to move an immigration bill responsibly through the House, and said that even in the GOP's "wildest dream," the aim of the bill would not be to "remove any person that might be here unless they were dangerous to this country and… committed a crime."
Sessions then said Republicans want to ensure some law is in place so there is clarity on how people can be in the U.S. legally and work, and "where not one person is quote 'thrown out' or 'deported.' "
Sessions's comments appeared to be made in the context of defending Republicans from charges that the GOP simply wants to deport all illegal immigrants. A spokesman for Sessions indicated that his comments need to be seen in that context, and noted that Sessions said repeatedly that he opposes Obama's unilateral action.
"The comments referenced were made during a Rules Committee hearing in which the committee considered legislation whose very title — the Executive Amnesty Prevention Act — makes it clear that the chairman is committed to holding the president accountable for his unconstitutional, unilateral actions," the spokesman said.
But Sessions went too far for some — his comments resulted in a story in the Daily Caller entitled, "Top GOP Leader Promises Total Amnesty in 2015."
While Sessions defended Republicans on their immigration position, it's almost impossible to know what that position is in any detail. House Republicans weren't able to come up with a broad bill outlining their goals, and Senate Republicans haven't had an opportunity to shape their own preferred policy under Democratic control.
And while Sessions claimed that few Republicans wants to deport all illegal immigrants, it's a claim that seems to get dangerously close to saying some should be spared from deportation, which raises another question of who should be spared, and how many.
As a party, Republicans have yet to answer these sorts of questions, and so far are focused primarily on stopping Obama from implementing his proposed solution, and at least giving Congress a chance to weigh in. Obama's plan could protect up to 5 million illegal immigrants, and let them work in the U.S. for up to three years.
Next week, House Republicans will have to decide whether and how to defund Obama's executive action, although GOP leaders have indicated they want to take up this fight next year.