GOP Eyes Its Toughest Opponent On Immigration Reform: Itself
In the arduous and complicated back-and-forth negotiations on the first comprehensive immigration reform bill in recent memory, Senate Republicans are realizing that their largest opposition is not the Senate Democrats; it’s the House GOP.
On Tuesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated that he sees no way to bring the immigration bill — which is currently garnering bipartisan support in the Senate — to the House floor, as it does not have the support of the majority of the House Republicans. The speaker went on to call the border security provisions in the bill “weak” and “laughable.”
“I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans,” Boehner said during a press briefing with reporters Tuesday. “I frankly think the Senate bill is weak on border security, I think the internal enforcement mechanisms are weak and the triggers are almost laughable. So if they’re serious about getting an immigration bill finished, they should reach out to their GOP colleagues to broaden support.”
This notion of “majority of the majority” support came to be after Boehner and a minority of the House Republicans joined with the House Democrats to overcome the conservative caucus during the debt-ceiling talks. Boehner survived threats to remove him as speaker, and has since confirmed a commitment to to avoid “backroom deals” with the Democrats and the White House.
“Any immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties’ support if we’re really serious about making that happen,” Boehner continued. “And so I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans.”
An isolated caucus
This is a problem because most House Republicans have no incentive at all to give expanded legal protections to illegal immigrants.
As reported in the Cook Political Report June 11, “To understand the immigration conundrum that the GOP faces in the House, it’s important to understand just how rare it is for a Republican House member to represent a Latino district. There are 108 majority-minority districts in the United States. Republicans represent just nine of them. Redistricting in 2012 helped create a structural advantage for the Republicans in the House, but, as my colleague David Wasserman observed, in the process of ‘quarantining Democrats, Republicans effectively purged millions of minority voters from their own districts’ creating an average Republican House district that is 75 percent white and an average Democratic House district that is 51 percent white. ‘In other words,’ Wasserman wrote, ‘while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.’”
Gerrymandering has created a situation in which the House Republicans are divorced from the political realities the Senate Republicans must face. Since 2010, only four Republican incumbents have fallen in House primaries. Even though Democrats carried the national vote in House, Senate and presidential balloting in 2012, Republicans still managed to keep control of the House and most experts now concede that the House’s leadership will probably not be challenged before 2022.
This causes a strong disconnect between the national and House GOP. The national Republicans realize that — without minority support — winning the Senate or the White House is impossible. In the 2012 presidential elections, the president carried nearly 75 percent of the Latino vote, with Latinos constituting 10 percent of the national electorate. With the Black vote squarely unavailable to the Republicans — the African-American electorate gave 96 percent of its vote to the president — and with more African-Americans voting in 2012 per capita than Whites, logic would suggest that national Republicans’ only hope is to milk Obama fatigue and to garner as much Latino support as they can.
Self-interest over party unity
David Johnson, the CEO of political consultancy Strategic Vision, is a veteran Republican strategist who worked on Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign and other key national campaigns. In an interview with Mint Press News, Johnson said he feels House Republicans are acting out of self-interest.
“Every politician is concerned with their own reelection campaign,” Johnson said. “The House Republican caucus is more conservative than the Senate caucus or the Republican governors or the national committee. What they are most concerned about — the House Republican caucus — is not the Democrats, but being challenged in a primary by a Tea Party candidate.
Redistricting has made the districts safe from challenge from the Democrats, Johnson stated, but House Republicans fear that if they don’t take a hard-enough line, they may be challenged by the radical right.
According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Republicans favor immigration reform, but they are not passionate about it.
“Most of the Republican support of the immigration reform bill falls into the ‘somewhat favor’ category, that is to say their support likely comes with a few reservations,” wrote Dante Chinni of the Wall Street Journal. “And there is a small enthusiasm gap on the GOP side as well. The number of Republicans who ‘strongly oppose’ the immigration reform bill is higher than the number that say they ‘strongly favor’ it.”
Furthermore, writes Chinni, “the numbers look similar for other groups, such as white survey respondents – 63 percent favor the bill, but only 27 percent ‘strongly favor’ it.”
Many House Republicans see these numbers as a signal that their base is lukewarm — if not downright hostile — to the idea of immigration reform. Since most Republicans have districts with minimal minority populations, the notion of “taking one for the team” is a non-starter to them. This is compounded by the reality that the immigration bill’s “path to citizenship” would create a larger Latino voting base — a politically harmful outcome for Republicans, since Latino voters traditionally vote Democratic.
For many Republicans in the House, the equation is simple: “The border is insecure and the proposed Senate bill makes few efforts to strengthen it, so what benefit will it serve me to grant someone who crossed into this nation illegally a free pass at the cost of my constituents?”
This mentality — not only in immigration, but with other issues such as abortion, where House Republicans recently passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks — is creating a toxic environment that not only threatens the Senate Republicans, but also the House Republicans after 2020.
“I think there have been some poisoning among the Republicans and I think all of this can come to roost with the next redistricting,” Johnson said. “Right now, House Republicans are not looking long-range. When we have redistricting again, Democrats could be in charge and we will have more minority-friendly districts.”
Without a unifying force that brings together not only the House and Senate Republicans, but also all the factions within the House Republican caucus, the party could face collapse, Johnson continued.
“The only way forward for the Republicans is together,” he said.
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