House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to hire a high-profile immigration policy advisor is being widely seen as a reaffirmation of the speaker's commitment to push for immigration reform next year, though Republicans familiar with the hiring cautioned against misinterpreting the move.
Boehner, R-Ohio, on Tuesday announced the hiring of Rebecca Tallent as assistant to the speaker for policy, handling immigration issues. Tallent joins the speaker's office from the Bipartisan Policy Center, where she is director of immigration policy. She previously served as an immigration advisor to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a long-time champion of comprehensive immigration reform who was part of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that negotiated a comprehensive immigration reform compromise.
But in a statement, a Boehner aide hinted that the speaker did not hire Tallent to help him engineer passage of a large, comprehensive immigration package similar to the Senate-passed bill. Boehner remains opposed to the “Gang of Eight” legislation. Instead, he wants to move a series of narrowly tailored immigration bills that would address various aspects of the proposed reforms separately as a way of attracting support from a majority of House Republicans. Tallent is expected to help with that effort.
"The speaker remains hopeful that we can enact step-by-step, common-sense immigration reforms — the kind of reforms the American people understand and support,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “Becky Tallent, a well-known expert in this field of public policy, is a great addition to our team and that effort.”
Still, concerns remain that hiring Tallent, who worked so closely with proponents of comprehensive immigration reform, may signal a change in the speaker's thinking about the issue. Among the worried are lawmakers who oppose a central component of comprehensive reforms, the pathway to citizenship it would provide for millions of illegal immigrants already living in the U.S. Tallent's former boss, McCain, is a long-time supporter of legalization, and that may raise red flags among those lawmakers.