WASHINGTON—As night settles over the Capitol, Tom Tancredo is seated in his congressional office, smoking a fat cigar and nursing a plastic tumbler of scotch.
The president is unhappy with him, the Colorado Republican says. So are GOP House leaders. One congressman, a California Republican who wants Tancredo run out of the party, is badmouthing him all over town. Tancredo exhales a billow of blue smoke.
Life is good.
With Congress weighing the toughest border security bill in years, the four-term House member from suburban Denver has emerged as the GOP’s most prominent voice on immigration—the one “to place our goal posts,” as he puts it.
He has done so with a blow-torch persona and uncompromising stance that pays no mind to party labels or diplomatic niceties, international or otherwise. His forum is talk radio, the political press and the food-fight shows on cable TV, which feast on each deliciously provocative morsel:
President Bush is a hypocrite on border issues. Republicans shill for big business. If Islamic terrorists attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons, we should bomb Mecca.
To critics, Tancredo is a hatemonger and mean-spirited demagogue. To supporters, he is a rare politician with the spine to speak his mind (and theirs as well). Either way, his talk of militarizing the border and hunting down and deporting millions of illegal immigrants has complicated White House efforts to put a friendlier face on the GOP and court Latino votes. That explains why so many of Tancredo’s enemies are fellow Republicans.
“Party I couldn’t care less about,” he says. “If it gets hurt by this, it deserves to be hurt.”
He sees his work on immigration as part of a larger fight to save Western civilization from a “cult of multiculturalism” that threatens to cleave the country into ethnic fiefs.
“It’s of no consequence to me where you’re from,” he says, shouting over the roar of the Orange County crowd. “All that I ask of you is that when you get here, you become an American!”
At times, it seems that Tancredo just itches to offend.
When the Denver Post profiled the honor roll student of an illegal immigrant family, Tancredo unsuccessfully tried to have the family deported.
Campaigning against the use of Mexican ID cards in the U.S., he posed in front of a mock consular photo of Mexican President Vicente Fox, drawing protests from the Mexican government.
His call to bomb Mecca, in a July radio interview, brought worldwide condemnation, including criticism from the State Department.
“I don’t like when people call me a racist or a xenophobe, or all the rest of that,” he says back in office, his voice softening. But then life is full of trade-offs. “I had to say the things I said in order . . . to get the focus” on immigration.