Updated: 3:40 P.M. ET
Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo faced the wrath of conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Thursday after he wrote an op-ed for Roll Call calling for immigration reform that includes legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Russo appeared on her show and Ingraham demanded to know “why on earth” he would support such a policy, which she said would “change the face of the country forever.” She said his argument that the existing system is “broken” makes her “ears bleed” because it’s what pro-reform Democrats say.
Russo sought to associate himself with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), one of the most outspoken Senate opponents of immigration reform, saying the two agree that immigration laws are depressing working-class wages.
“I totally agree with Senator Sessions and really the point of my op-ed piece is to say, look I have no use for the work that Schumer has done or Durbin has done, Menendez has done, I didn’t like the Gang of 8 bill at all,” Russo said. “I would love to have Senator Sessions and Mike Lee and Ted Cruz write an immigration bill that … puts America’s just interests as a primary criteria. … I agree with Senator Sessions — we’re letting the wrong people in.”
None of the three Republican senators Russo mentioned are supporting a path to legalization. Ingraham wasn’t buying what he had to say.
“You’re all in on this,” she said. “You can say you’re with Jeff Sessions, but I imagine if I call Sessions up now and ask him, after reading this op-ed you wrote, are you with Jeff Sessions, I think he would say, uh, no, no and no.”
A Sessions aide, contacted for this article, referred TPM to a speech the senator gave Wednesday where he slammed guest worker programs. Russo called for expanding agriculture and high-skilled guest worker programs.
When Ingraham asked Russo point blank if he supports a path to legalization, things got awkward. He tried to hedge, and she demanded a yes or no answer. “I don’t know how to answer that question,” he said. “I’m totally opposed to amnesty.” That’s when Ingraham snapped and raised her voice: “What does that mean to anybody listening to my show? It means nothing.”
In an email to TPM on Thursday, Russo said “the main thrust of my op ed is that conservatives should write the immigration bill, not liberals. I don’t have my own detailed prescription for fixing the system, other than some general principles. So I am very open to different ideas, which is why I want to see conservatives get in the forefront.” He added that he doesn’t see Congress fixing the broken immigration system “until the Democrats get serious, which won’t happen until they realize they are losing their Senate majority.”
Russo’s support for reform was notable because the tea party base is the last stumbling block to reform — which has stalled in the Republican-led House — and Tea Party Express is one of the largest groups within the movement. The Senate-passed bill enjoys the support of business, labor, Hispanics, Silicon Valley, liberals, Democrats and some establishment Republicans.