Over the past weeks and months, we've heard every kind of excuse for the GOP's failure to move forward on immigration reform. Today, America’s Voice has tried to unpack the GOP’s weak justifications for inaction and offer our assessment of some of the recent developments in the immigration reform debate.
Three reasons why the Republicans’ latest excuses for blocking immigration reform are transparently weak:
1. The Votes Exist in the House to Pass Immigration Reform Right Now: Last week’s House vote on the debt-ceiling again demonstrated that a “governing majority” does exist in the Houseto pass priority legislation. The so-called “Hastert rule,” the supposed ironclad rule that only bills receiving support from the majority of the majority move forward, is now officially the “Hastert excuse” – the debt-ceiling vote was the fifth instance this Congress in which Speaker Boehner ignored it. On immigration,the votes exist to pass reform, if Speaker Boehner allowed a vote to occur.
2. If It’s a Political Calculation, Why Aren’t House RepublicansActing on Immigration? Per the Washington Post, House Republicans are openly stating that they will not pursue “big-ticket” legislation like immigration reform this year and will instead prioritize “calming divisions,” avoiding “intraparty drama,” and building “Republicans’ ground game ahead of November’s midterm elections.” The open acknowledgment that political implications are driving their legislative strategy begs a larger question – why focus on such short-term political scenarios when the 2016 and longer-term political implications are strongly in favor of passing immigration reform? If the Post report is true and House Republicans continue to block immigration reform, this means that only immigration floor action that House Republicans will have taken this Congress will be their vote in favor of anti-immigrant extremist Steve King’s (R-IA) amendment to defund the DACA program and subject DREAMers to deportation. Not exactly a strong rebuke of the GOP’s recent “self-deportation” past. Plus, the idea that Republicans will hurt their 2014 chances by pursuing reform is misguided. As former NRSC executive director Rob Jesmer recently said to Greg Sargent of the Post, “The idea that someone who is sitting at home mad at the president about Obamacare is going to wake up in October and say, ‘I’m really mad that Republicans voted to solve the immigration mess, so I’m not going to vote’ — I just find that to be ridiculous.”
3. Wait ‘Til 2015? Not Going to Happen: The notion that Republicans can block immigration reform in 2014, but take the issue back up in 2015 is a non-starter, despite numerous House Republicans making this assertion recently. As Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said on CNN last Sunday, “To wait until 2015 when we're involved in Republican primaries, obviously, would not be a viable scenario.” And the Wall Street Journal recentlyeditorialized that “the opponents will raise the same furor whenever it comes up, and Democrats will be less likely to compromise figuring they can use the issue to drive minority voter turnout in 2016.”
Despite the continued House Republican obstruction to reform, here are three reasons why we think immigration reform is coming:
1. The American Public Strongly Backs Immigration Reform & Republican Voters are Surprisingly Supportive: The American public broadly and consistently backs immigration reform with a path to citizenship, with Republican voters more pro-reform and pragmatic on the issue than conventional wisdom suggests. As a new Gallup poll finds, public sentiment is moving even more in a pro-reform direction, with Americans placing equal importance on a plan to deal with the undocumented population and border security measures. As Gallup notes in its poll summary, this “is a shift from the past, when Americans were consistently more likely to rate border security as extremely important.” Meanwhile, key constituencies like the American Farm Bureau and in-state business leaders (see this op-ed from Nebraska, for example) continue to speak out about the need for reform and the policy consequences of inaction. And Latino voters’ political engagement and behavior remains closely tied to immigration reform debate (see this recent summary of Latino voter polling on immigration from Latino Decisions). With both overall public sentiment and the intensity factor on the side of the pro-reform movement, it’s only a matter of time before that wins out.
2. The Demographics are Relentless and the Political Consequences of Inaction are Severe: Republican obstruction to immigration reform would cement their anti-immigrant brand to the fastest-growing segments of the electorate, meaning that their prospects of re-taking the White House in 2016 and beyond will be imperiled. As John Feehery, a former House leadership aide and current Republican consultant, recently noted, “If we don’t pass immigration reform this year, we will not win the White House back in 2016, 2020 or 2024.” Beyond the presidency, observers are increasingly noting that immigration could harm Republicans’ chances in a host of 2016 down-ballot races as well. For example,Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats in 2016 – seven in states carried by Obama – while Democrats need only to defend 10 seats. A filibuster-proof majority is possible. Republican inaction in 2014 could mean the GOP is doomed as a national party in 2016 and beyond.
3. Pressure on President Obama to Take Executive Action is Rising, and GOP Inaction in 2014 Will Virtually Guarantee He Will Exercise it: If House Republicans block a legislative fix to immigration in 2014, pressure will only grow on President Obama to take executive action to suspend deportations for those who would qualify for legalization under pending legislation. Already, the President’s allies and immigration activists are providing a preview of what’s to come if legislation remains blocked. At the recent House Democratic retreat, several lawmakers asked the President about relief for parents of DREAMers and administrative efforts to encourage re-unification of families separated by deportations. Meanwhile, as MSNBC highlighted, approximately “30 religious leaders, immigrants, and supporters holding signs and singing songs in protest to President Obama’s deportation policy were arrested outside the north gate of the White House,” in a protest organized by the United Methodist Church and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) yesterday. If the GOP blocks reform and the President delivers on executive relief, it would inject the issue into the Republican presidential primary cycle, burnish the President’s legacy among Latino and Asian-American voters and box the Republican Party in politically – much like President Obama’s DACA announcement did in June 2012.