House Speaker John Boehner's new staffer in charge of immigration policy has significant experience in drafting immigration legislation and pushing for reform. She wouldn't be coming to Boehner's office if House Republicans weren't serious about doing something on the issue. What that is remains to be seen.
Rebecca Tallent, former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will be coming to the speaker's office from the Bipartisan Policy Center, where she has served as director of immigration policy. Her move "is affirmation of [Boehner's] strong desire to move legislation in 2014," BPC's immigration task force cochairman, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, said in a statement.
Tallent is a veteran of immigration fights and a big believer in reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. One of her early endeavors in negotiating legislation was 10 years ago, when she worked as a staffer for former Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. Tallent helped draft a major immigration bill sponsored by Kolbe, McCain, and former Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., now a senator and member of the "Gang of Eight" who created the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in June.
"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."
Boehner has rejected the Gang of Eight's bill, saying the House will chart its own path toward reform. But Tallent is no stranger to rejection either. Flake and Kolbe were unable to get a Democratic cosponsor for their 2003 measure, despite months of courting then-Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.
After Kolbe retired, Tallent moved to the Senate with McCain and held the Republican line in negotiations on another comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2006. Her role primarily consisted of keeping unions at bay who balked on increasing guestworker visas and on pay scales for those workers. "I know more than I ever wanted to know about prevailing wage," she said in 2003.
The previous staffer in charge of immigration policy left Boehner's office a few weeks ago for another job.