Rubio's aides last week brought one of the organizers of the effort to undermine the groups, Mario Lopez, a party strategist on Hispanic politics, to a regular meeting of GOP Senate staffers, where Lopez distributed literature about the groups' backgrounds and connections. Rubio also raised concerns about the groups' leanings during a recent conference call on immigration with conservative activists.
Rubio's spokesman, Alex Conant, said the senator "has argued that some groups that oppose legal immigration should not be considered part of the conservative coalition," adding that the "vast majority of Republicans strongly support legal immigration."
Kevin Appleby, director of immigration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an email to The Washington Post that "pro-life legislators should think twice about working with these groups, as their underlying goals are inconsistent with a pro-life agenda."
The campaign has prompted at least one key conservative House member to take a new look at the three organizations. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Tex., vice chairman of an immigration subcommittee and the newly named chair of the House GOP's Immigration Reform Caucus, said he carefully read the literature that had been left at his office by some of the activists helping with the campaign against the groups. He brought the matter up during a meeting Wednesday with officials from the Federation for American Immigration Reform and said he is eager to hear a more public response from the groups.
"I was just surprised about the allegations of an ulterior motive," he said in an interview.
Officials from the groups and their allies on Capitol Hill have been working to defend their credibility, saying they espouse positions held by many Americans from across the political spectrum, from liberals concerned about the carbon footprint of new migrants to conservatives focused on the rule of law and populists worried about the impact on wages.