Missouri Conservatives And Immigration Ed Martin, former Missouri GOP chairman, tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro how grassroots conservatives may lean on lawmakers as they consider immigration proposals in the House.
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Missouri Conservatives And Immigration

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Missouri Conservatives And Immigration

Missouri Conservatives And Immigration

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In the state of Missouri, there are four lawmakers supporting the hardline immigration bill put forth by Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte. Ed Martin is a former chairman of the Missouri GOP and is now president of the conservative group Phyllis Schlafly Eagles. He joins us now. Good morning.

ED MARTIN: Good morning, Lulu. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm very well. So let's start with the demographics of the Republican Party in Missouri. We've just heard from a lawmaker in California. And they have a big Latino base there. What does the Missouri GOP look like?

MARTIN: Yeah. You know, the Missouri GOP is - well, it's very interesting, like a lot of the country in the era of Trump. You know, demographically, I would say we have two big cities - right? - that have minority populations. And I'd say predominantly African-American when we say minority there. But St. Louis and Kansas City and then the rest of the state is more rural, so we're not a big - the numbers - top of my head isn't coming to me on the population, but it's not a big population. But highway 44 passes - Interstate 44 passes from the southwest corner of the state up through towards Chicago. And we have had a big problem with drugs through there. That's kind of a drug corridor, so the issue of immigration and the issue or the questions around immigration enforcement are - they play out here with some intensity, in the Republican Party especially.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Let me talk about that. I mean, is it a driving issue for Republican voters in Missouri?

MARTIN: Yeah. It sure is. Donald Trump won Missouri by 19 points in 2016. And our incumbent Republican senator won by - Roy Blunt only won by two points, so there is a whole bunch of people that were energized by Donald Trump. And they were energized, in my opinion, especially in our Republican Party, on the issue of immigration. It really is a central part of what they looked up and saw in his message.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk a little bit about some of the president's policies on immigration. How is the introduction of the controversial family separation policy changed people's minds or not on how they view immigration in that state?

MARTIN: Well, I don't know if it's changed people's minds. I think the coverage of it in the last couple of weeks has energized - you know, has caught everybody's attention. That coverage of that has been sort of - the word is kind of shocking. People are shocked. And, you know, they're hearing about it. But I generally think that people - Republicans have been excited about Trump's presence, Trump's work on immigration, how he's dealt with that. And then - but this issue that's come up, it's getting a lot of attention. And it's - it is shocking, so it's - but I think the president and others know it's forcing decisions on all sides. And I think that's part of, you know, the political work that has to be done.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you to put on your analyst hat here for a moment. So when you have Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte proposing this hardline immigration bill, and then you have other Republicans who are more moderate on immigration proposing their version, does the fact that Republican Missourians have a more hardline view of immigration really block compromise on this issue?

MARTIN: Well, I - you know, that's always - the short answer is maybe (laughter). Sorry, but I think - look, the Goodlatte Bill looks pretty good. I mean, there's things in it to me that as a real, pretty hardline conservative guy, I get a little - even that gets me nervous. The moderate bill - it's a non-starter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what you're saying, though - if the president goes to the Hill on Tuesday, as he is slated to do, and he accepts the moderate bill, you and other conservatives like you, possibly in Missouri, in your state, would have a big problem with that. And he may lose some support.

MARTIN: Yeah. I don't like that bill. Yeah. I mean, I really, really like how this president has been leading. But I think that's a really bad deal. And so I - you know, I'm not sitting here saying, today I'm really mad at him. I'm saying, we'll watch and see. I do a lot of talking to grassroots conservatives. And Friday, they were, you know, really worried after he started - changed the tune out of the White House because we don't want to see a massive moderate amnesty bill that has not enough of the real changes. The president did convince the base to look differently at an amnesty, some kind of pathway to citizenship if he got those other pillars, you know, build the wall, get rid of the visa lottery system and end chain migration. We - we're willing to look at that. I'm willing to - I and others, but the moderate bill looks pretty bad. So we'll see what happens.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ed Martin, president of the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, thank you very much.

MARTIN: Thanks, Lulu.

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