President Barack Obama’s shift on immigration has accentuated fissures within the Republican Party. Some Republicans (notably those with longer term strategical thinking) are welcoming it, hoping to get the issue behind them or at least neutralize the GOP’s bad image with Latinos. But now there is a growing chorus of Republican elected officials who are coming out against it — and even pressuring all-but-certain Republican candidate Mitt Romney to say if he’s elected he’d rescind it.
Republicans are lining up against President Obama’s end-run around Congress to administratively grant immunity to some undocumented immigrants, effectively ensuring that he reaps the political dividends of the move among Hispanic voters — and deepening Mitt Romney’s predicament with Latinos and conservatives.
New polls suggest that Obama is gaining support among Hispanics, who have been unhappy with him for failing to pass immigration reform and for deporting illegal immigrants at a record pace.
Even as prominent conservatives like George Will and Bill Kristol give their party leaders an escape hatch by praising Obama’s move, elected Republicans have instead decided to take cover with their anti-immigration base and stand against it. Careful to wrap their critique in procedural concerns and avoid discussing the substance, GOP lawmakers are lining up in droves to decry Obama’s shift as executive overreach. Joining the pack Tuesday was House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), even as he expressed sympathy for the plight undocumented youth brought to the U.S. by their parents.
“The question remains whether he violated the Constitution,” Boehner said, adding that “the president’s actions make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution.”
In having a lot of experience over the years (see below) reporting on the issue of immigration and knowing some families impacted by it, I doubt if expressing sympathy but criticizing the move will help. Those who are relieved by Obama’s ruling will just pick up the negative, versus the sympathy.
And Romney? So far he’s offering courageous, definitive evasion on the issue:
“You know, we will see kind of what the calendar looks like at that point and I am not going to tell which items will come first, second, or third,” he told Fox News. “What I can tell you is that those people who come here by virtue of their parents bringing them here, who came in illegally, that’s something I don’t want to football with as a political matter.”
The biggest news here is that he has made “football” an adjective (TMV writers take note).
Balancing solidarity with DREAMers with opposition to Obama’s policy shift won’t be easy. Republicans killed the DREAM Act via Senate filibuster late in 2010, and to date neither elected members nor Romney have backed legislation to address the issue. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who was crafting a bill to accomplish similar ends as Obama’s move, now says it’s a lost cause.
Romney has refused to say whether he would keep the new policy if elected. Meanwhile, a growing chorus of Republicans is calling on their nominee to pledge to reverse it.
And it sounds as if Democrats are drooling:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), eager to capitalize, went after Republicans for criticizing Obama’s move to handle the issue administratively, pointing out that they’ve been blocking legislative action to help DREAM-eligible youth.
“There’s no better illustration of the Republicans’ hypocrisy than their phony outrage this past weekend,” Reid said Tuesday. “Leading Republican voices on immigration are yet to actually disagree with the decision. They just don’t like the way the president made the decision. I guess because he’ll get credit for bringing out of the shadows 800,000 trustworthy young men and women who know no other home but the United States.”
The economy will be the big issue, of course. But Republicans shouldn’t forget what happened to them in California due to the Latino vote. When Gov. Pete Wilson strongly got in back of Proposition 187, which passed in a referendum in 1994 but was found unconstitutional, it was political curtains for the California GOP for years to come.
The measure tried to create a state-run citizenship screening system and sought to bar illegal immigrants from using health care, public education, and other social services in the U.S. State of California. Latino voters never forgot: just as JFK helped shift black voters en mass to the Democrats, Proposition 187 is believed to have battered Republican chances with Latinos year after year.
A personal note: I did major stories (including a series) while on the Wichita Eagle Beacon in the early 80s and during my time as a staff reporter on the San Diego Union (where I was assigned to cover Ronald Reagan’s immigration reform and later covered Tijuana and border issues and did a series on bilingual education). I knew MANY “illegal” families, including families in Wichita. It’s unrealistic to think that with the emotional and financial issues involved with staying in the U.S. that they and many Latino voters will trust for Republicans who say they are sympathetic to immigrant children but talk against Obama’s move — and who won’t rule out rescinding the rule.
Many Latino group leaders that I would talk to regularly (and some were my best sources who I called on stories for quotes all the time, or they called me to vent or give me a story or if I quoted the late INS Western Regional Commissioner Harold Ezelle, who was a great “quote machine” and later went on to author Proposition 187) were highly suspicious of even politicians that came right out and promised reform.
If the GOP is wise it will listen to the smart political voices of people such as Jeb Bush, George W. Bush and Karl Rove on this issue and a)get on the right side of it (which polls clearly outline) or b)move off it and back onto the economy as quickly as possible it can neutralize Obama’s move and stop the bleeding of the Latino vote. But opposing it, sounding like they oppose it, or seeking to repeal it in the long term may a notably un-smart course of action.
For now, at least, it sounds like the GOP is now giving Obama & Co. a wonderful Christmas gift — one they can open on election day.
Maybe not enough to win it for them but possibly enough to win some key swing states.
And, like in California, it could well be the gift that keeps on giving and giving.
UPDATE: First Read:
*** Romney boxed in on immigration: Why do Republicans have a problem when it comes to immigration? And why will Romney’s speech on Thursday to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) be such a challenge for him? Here’s a reason: The first actual GOP bill that gets traction after Obama’s immigration move on Friday is an effort to reverse the president’s action. As NBC’s Frank Thorp reported yesterday, Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) has introduced legislation that would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing a presidential executive action as immigration law. This demonstrates the box that Romney finds himself in (and which John McCain found himself in four years ago): Even if you want to try to woo Latinos by pursuing a more moderate path on immigration, the GOP base is against that. That said, the Republican National Committee is up with web video (in both English and Spanish) arguing that the economy hasn’t worked for Latinos during the Obama years. But is an economic message, with nothing to offer on immigration, really enough?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.