Byron York

But other GOP voices on the Judiciary Committee are speaking more forcefully on those hot-button issues. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a member of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, is passionate on the subject. "There are two areas in America where the law is ignored and sometimes laughed at, and immigration is one of them," King says. (The other, he adds, is election law.) King wants to change that.

King is co-sponsoring a bill, "The Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011," that would address the problem of "anchor babies." It's a question full of constitutional complexities; birthright citizenship is grounded in the 14th Amendment, and many experts believe only a constitutional amendment can change it. King feels otherwise. In any event, it's an issue that Smith says the full committee will not be addressing in its first months.

King would also like to look into so-called "sanctuary cities," that is, cities whose officials offer protection to illegal immigrants and openly defy federal immigration law. He's also eager to do more on border security. "We need to restart the push, to complete the task of building a fence and a wall on our southern border," he says. But as far as the full committee is concerned, that's not on Smith's list of priorities to be addressed first. Right now, the message is jobs.

On that theme, Holder is likely to face a lot of questions about the administration's immigration policy in the nation's workplaces. Whatever the disagreements, Smith is taking care to sound non-adversarial. He and Holder have had lunch together and spoken on the phone, Smith says. "I expect that we will get cooperation from the Department of Justice," he says. "I see no reason to threaten them or issue subpoenas at this point."

Well, it's early.


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner