Protesters promote immigration reform during Pres. Obama's trip to El Paso yesterday (Reuters)
There weren't any core Democratic constituencies happy with Obama's first two years in office, as the president expended immense amounts of political capital chasing that elusive bipartisan pony. With labor, Latinos, gays, women and others upset at Democratic unwillingness to move the ball on their priorities (and sometimes taking steps backwards), it's no wonder Democrats got hammered in 2010. Their base voters stayed home.
It didn't take long for Democrats to seemingly get the message. Among the key accomplishments of the lame duck session was the repeal of the odious Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, and the administration followed it up by pulling out of all Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) legal defenses. Suddenly, one of the constituency groups most angry at Obama is now one of its more important ones for his reelection fight.
President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign is banking on gay donors to make up the cash it’s losing from other groups of wealthy supporters who have been alienated and disappointed by elements of Obama’s first term.
Pleased by an all-out White House push to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” gay donors have surprised campaign officials with the extent of their support. And the campaign’s new fundraising apparatus appears designed to capitalize on their enthusiasm: Obama’s finance committee included one gay man in 2008; there are 15 this year, a source said.
Few groups were more engaged in pushback against the administration than the gay community. Contrast with disillusioned Latinos, who merely retreated deeper into the shadows. But while Latinos don't have the disposable income of the gay community, they do have votes. Lots of votes. And in key batleground states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, North Carolina, and even Arizona. And getting them re-engaged after their record levels of non-participation
will be critical to not just locking down Obama's reelection, but winning Pelosi back her gavel and holding the line in the Senate.
Hence, Obama's sudden rediscovery of the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. Politics aside, the debate has clear merits on the policy. As David Plouffe wrote on the White House website:
Most Americans agree that our immigration system is broken: it hamstrings our economy, it hurts families who play by the rules, and it leaves millions living in the shadows without a path to get right with the law.
We can't out-educate, out-innovate and out-build our competitors without an immigration system that works for our economy. That's why this conversation on immigration reform is so important. We need voices from across the country to help us elevate the debate and move forward.
But aside from the policy merits, the politics of the issue have been clearly on our side for a long time. Polling shows clear support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants so long as they a) pay a fine and back taxes, b) have a clear criminal record, and c) speak English. Those are fair demands, accepted by the immigration reform community, and once upon a time championed by Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain. But while Republicans in the House and Senate may now be held in thrall by their teabagger fringe, the rest of mainstream American is hugely supportive of reform.
We ask an immigration reform question every month on our weekly poll, and we asked it just this past weekend. The results:
If passed into law one version of immigration reform that people have discussed would secure the border and crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. It would also require illegal immigrants to register for legal immigration status, pay back taxes, and learn English in order to be eligible for U.S. citizenship. Do you favor or oppose Congress passing this version of immigration reform?
All 69 19
GOP 85 9
Dem 58 26
Ind 66 22
Lib 50 32
Con 80 11
Mod 67 21
Even among Tea Party respondents, the numbers were 83 percent in favor, nine percent opposed. So the xenophobic right is a fringe of the fringe. Why? Because most conservatives like the idea of punishing these "wrongdoers." You take out the "pay back taxes" clause, and support among conservatives crater. It's really that simple (and should give you some insight into the conservative psyche).
But no one is taking out that clause. The fine is part of every comprehensive immigration reform proposal put forth. People agree the immigration system is broken. They're satisfied with a solution that appropriately punishes undocumented immigrants for breaking the law. The support is multi-partisan, and dominant among all demographics. In fact, there may be no other issue that has as partisan consensus as this one.
Yet the politicians in DC, and particularly the GOPers, refuse to represent their own ideological constituents.
Obama is in solid footing here. The policy and political merits of comprehensive immigration reform are beyond doubt. And as with DADT repeal, Democrats will find that doing the right thing for the base is the right thing for all Americans.