The debate about immigration reform was already heating up on the right even before the revelation that the Boston Marathon bombing gave an excuse to some in Congress to put off consideration of the topic. As Seth noted, Senator Rand Paul’s decision to pull back on the issue makes it possible the topic could be used by the libertarian leader or some other conservative as an issue against gang-of-eight member Senator Marco Rubio. And with the influential Heritage Foundation’s new leader, former Senator Jim Demint, going all out to stop the bipartisan compromise that Rubio is fronting, getting the bill through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not be easy.
Reform advocates did get a boost yesterday when Representative Paul Ryan indicated his support of the underlying principles of the bill even if he did not formally endorse it. Ryan has a great deal of influence with House Republicans as well as Speaker John Boehner, but his chances of rallying the GOP against DeMint’s push won’t be helped by a Politico feature that argues that the passage of the bill effectively ensures that the Democrats won’t be losing any national elections in the foreseeable future. The piece argues that if the 11 million illegal immigrants take advantage of the path to citizenship offered by the Senate bill, the reform will produce an “electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.”
This is exactly the kind of talk designed to scare the GOP grass roots into insensibility, since many of them already believe that a biased liberal media, voter fraud and the generous federal patronage plums and benefits have created an uphill slog for any Republican in a national election. But while the logic of this assumption of a windfall of potential Democratic voters can’t be ignored, Republicans would be foolish to assume that it makes sense for them to stonewall immigration reform. If they truly wish to continue as a national political force and as a natural party of government they must reject the idea that keeping more Hispanics out of the United States is their only hope of survival.
The early indications are that President Obama may not seek to torpedo the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward yesterday by six U.S. senators. Having wisely put their plan before the public before the president could grandstand on the issue and continue to use it as a partisan cudgel to attack Republicans, the group led by Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, John McCain and Marco Rubio made it difficult for the president to avoid endorsing their efforts even if he can be counted on to push for a more liberal approach than GOP members of the reform coalition will accept. But if Obama keeps his promise to Schumer and Durbin and doesn’t try to torpedo their scheme in the hope of making political hay out of a dispute with the GOP over its terms, the real drama will be on the right as conservatives begin their own debate on the issue.
Pushback against the proposal from the right wasn’t long in coming. Rush Limbaugh denounced it on the radio, as did many others who helped sink previous reform plans by branding them as “amnesty.” Even more troubling was the negative reaction on Fox News from commentators Jonah Goldberg and Charles Krauthammer, who both poured cold water on the bipartisan scheme by claiming that its promise of border control and enforcement of the laws was not credible and that, as had been the case after Ronald Reagan’s try at dealing with the problem, illegal immigration would continue unabated. Others took on the rationale that Republicans should back the bill in order to get more Hispanic votes. Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review to rightly point out (as Seth did last year) that many Hispanics like liberal policies and are unlikely to switch parties even if the GOP stopped positioning itself as the anti-immigrant party.
These are reasonable arguments but they are not persuasive. Republicans ought to get behind the immigration compromise not because it will help them politically but because opposition to it is bad public policy.
Last week I wrote about the effort by a bipartisan group of eight senators to come up with a workable compromise on immigration reform that could pass Congress. The group collectively has enough clout to give them cover on both the left and right flanks of their parties to move a bill that would both address the need to control the border and provide a path to legality for the approximately 11 million illegals currently in the country. At that time, the group was planning on announcing their joint proposal this coming Friday. But the wild card was President Obama’s scheduled speech tomorrow in Las Vegas, where he plans to discuss immigration. The concern was that if the president staked out a more extreme position on the issue and used it–as he has throughout his time in office–to demagogue the issue in order to demonize Republicans to Hispanics, it would blow up any chance for bipartisan compromise.
But the group of eight decided not to wait to see if Obama would sabotage their efforts. They released a copy of their memo of understanding over the weekend and plan to formally present it to the press today. While the process of translating this memo into a piece of legislation will not be easy and will require more compromises from both sides of the aisle, it does raise the stakes for the president. Rather than just a hazy prospect of bipartisan compromise, the announcement presents a concrete option for reform that has not been previously possible. That means that if the president doesn’t get behind it or at least get out of its way, it will be the White House and not congressional Republicans or immigration opponents who will be responsible for its failure. Obama’s comments this week may answer the question as to whether he is actually interested in progress on the issue or whether he is uninterested in it except as a cudgel with which to beat his political opponents.
Eight years after Congressional opponents pronounced President George W. Bush’s immigration reform plan dead on arrival, there appears to be a real opportunity that a far-reaching proposal on the subject will pass the Senate. As the Washington Post reports, a working group of senators, including heavy hitters from both sides of the aisle, are close to an agreement on the principles for changing the country’s immigration laws. According to the Post, the proposal, which could be announced as early as a week from today will include the following:
The working group’s principles would address stricter border control, better employer verification of workers’ immigration status, new visas for temporary agriculture workers and expanding the number of visas available for skilled engineers. They would also include a call to help young people who were brought to the country illegally as children by their parents become citizens and to normalize the status of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.
The plan, which is the result of talks including Democrats Robert Menendez, Richard Dubin, Charles Schumer, Michael Bennett and Republicans Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake. While there are still some disagreements to be ironed out since Rubio believes that illegals should have to wait for citizenship until those who arrived legally are accommodated while Democrats disagree, this may be the best chance to pass a bill dealing with the problem in decades. But there is one potential obstacle: President Obama.
Post-mortems on President Obama’s election victory have harped on his dominant hold on the Hispanic vote. That has, in turn, led to speculation about the Republican Party changing its tune on immigration, an issue which is widely — and probably quite rightly — viewed as a deal breaker for the majority of Hispanic voters when GOP candidates ask for their support. To that end, several prominent Republican leaders, such as House Speaker John Boehner and conservative thinkers like Charles Krauthammer, have suggested a course change for Republicans that would enable them to avoid being characterized as anti-immigrant and, by extension, anti-Hispanic.
While I’m far from sure that at this late date it will be possible for Republicans to make up the ground they’ve lost in the last decade with Hispanics by flipping on the issue, I think those advising a course change are correct. President George W. Bush was right to champion reform legislation on this issue, and his party’s failure to support him was wrong as well as a lost opportunity that may not recur. Most of those who come to this country illegally are merely seeking work, and it is high time that most conservatives stop acting as if illegals are a grave threat to the country. Nevertheless, any expectation that the bulk of party members will change their stance on the issue is probably unrealistic. The reason why most of the GOP presidential candidates pandered to the right on this issue is no mystery. Even though it is political poison for the party’s future, most in the GOP grassroots want no part of any plan to grant amnesty to the approximately 12 million illegals in the country.
Democrats have a right to crow this morning. President Obama won re-election with a narrow, yet decisive win in the popular vote and a large margin in the Electoral College, in which he won every tossup up state with the exception of North Carolina. Though they were expected to lose seats in the Senate, Democrats gained two. The Republicans did hold onto the House of Representatives, which means the status quo of the last two years in Washington is preserved. But those trying to diminish the scope of the Democrats’ victory are wasting their time. For an incumbent president to win re-election despite presiding over a poor economy and few accomplishments other than decidedly unpopular measures like ObamaCare, is an astonishing feat of political skill. It was also a reflection of the changing nature of the electorate that now skews more toward the Democrats than many of us thought. Liberal pundits like Nate Silver who insisted that the polls were right to show a Democratic advantage were right about that and I was wrong, as were most conservative writers.
But to assume, as some inevitably will, that this means the Republicans are more or less doomed to a cycle of unending defeats in the future is a mistake that neither party should make. Though talk about President Obama not having a mandate is meaningless since winning is the only mandate any president ever needs, Republicans are by no means painted into a corner from which they cannot extricate themselves in future contests. The 2012 election was about Barack Obama and preserving his historic legacy. Yet second terms are generally miserable affairs for presidents, and Obama will likely prove no exception, especially with a Republican House to investigate scandals. For all of the problems that this election revealed to the Republicans about Hispanics, women, and working class voters, they are still positioned to make a strong showing in the 2014 midterms and to take back the White House in 2016.
Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:
Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.
That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.
Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”
President Obama is heading to Florida today to address the same group of Hispanic legislators who heard Mitt Romney take a more conciliatory line on illegal immigrants. Romney’s walk back of his previous opposition to the substance of the DREAM Act is a good idea, and he was right to point out that the president’s election year decision to stop the deportation of young illegals is cynical. But it isn’t likely to gain him much traction with Hispanic voters. On this issue, he needs to quit now while he’s behind.
Though many pundits have been hounding Republicans to do more to appeal to Hispanics, at least as far as 2012 is concerned it’s a lost cause. Romney should not be tempted to waste any more time trying to outbid the president on an issue where he has far more to lose than to gain by changing his position. Any further shifts on immigration — an issue on which he staked out a hard right-wing position during the Republican primaries — will only remind voters of his reputation as a flip-flopper. In doing so, Romney also seems to be forgetting that the reason why he did his best to outflank Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on immigration is that his opposition to amnesty programs happens to be popular.
The biggest news coming out of Mitt Romney’s speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference today is that he appeared to soften his stance on illegal immigration (as expected after the primary) and even endorsed a key portion of the DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship. The Hill reports:
He also reversed course on a key part of the DREAM Act, pledging to provide permanent residency for illegal immigrants who came to the United States and children and graduate from college. This is a major shift from Romney’s message in the GOP primaries, when he only pledged to provide that path for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.
Will this be enough to convince Hispanic voters, after the tougher tone Romney took during the primaries? Maybe not, but one possible saving grace for Romney is that his opponent has also been far from perfect on these issues. Immigration reform advocates had placed enormous hope in Obama after his repeated promises in 2008, and he never came through. It’s not lost on them that the president waited until mere months before his next election to issue some quick-bandaid deportation guidelines — and only when he was backed into a wall by the possibility that Sen. Marco Rubio could co-opt the issue.
Obama’s deportation decision already seems to be boosting his support with Hispanic voters, and it’s getting high marks from the general public as well, according to a Bloomberg poll:
Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.
The results underscore the challenge facing Mitt Romney and Republicans as they try to woo Hispanic voters, who are the nation’s largest ethnic minority and made up 9 percent of the 2008 electorate, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls. Obama won the Hispanic vote 67 to 31 percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, according to exit polls.
Note that even McCain’s very moderate views on immigration were only able to net him 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Obama’s 67 percent. With that in mind, Romney’s muted response to Obama’s announcement is smart. He isn’t doing anything to specifically turn voters away from him on immigration, but he’s also keeping his focus on the economy and unemployment, issues that have had an outsized impact on the Hispanic community. Obama’s hope at this point is to knock Romney off message and shift attention to social issues that distract from his economic record.
No surprise here, as killing Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposed DREAM Act was exactly the point of Obama’s announcement on Friday. But it certainly is interesting that the same guy who took to the pages of Time today to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform is the same guy who has been frantically working behind the scenes to spike Rubio’s legislation. Mission accomplished:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday that President Barack Obama’s move last week to block deportations for some young illegal immigrants in the U.S. has likely derailed his own similar efforts, at least until after the election.
“People are going to say to me, ‘Why are we going to need to do anything on this now. It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election,’” Sen. Rubio said in an interview. “And it is going to be hard to argue against that.”
There was a story in Saturday’s Washington Post that could have significant bearing on the 2012 presidential race. According to the Post, “The number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since 2008, posing a serious challenge to the Obama campaign in an election that could turn on the participation of minority voters.”
The story goes on to say that according to the Census Bureau, for the first time in nearly four decades, the number of registered Hispanics has dropped significantly. “But in some politically important swing states, the decline among Hispanics, who are considered critical in the 2012 presidential contest, is much higher,” reporter Krissah Thompson said. “Just over 28 percent in New Mexico, for example, and about 10 percent in Florida… Among Latinos, the decline has altered a trend of steady growth. Given that 12 million Latinos were registered to vote in 2008, some analysts had projected the number would grow to 13 million in 2010 and 14 million this election cycle. Instead, it fell in 2010 to 11 million.”
“Everyone is saying the Latino vote is rocketing to the moon,” said Antonio Gonzalez of the Velasquez Institute. “It has been growing, but it stopped.”
For blacks, registration numbers are down 7 percent nationwide.
From the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign, one of the sidebars to which commentators have consistently returned is the impact of the Hispanic vote on the November election. Republicans have been cautioned, not without reason, to remember that the growing percentage of Americans of Hispanic background didn’t think much of their obsession with illegal immigration. And they have been tempted to think that the presence of a Hispanic — most notably Florida Senator Marco Rubio — might not only deliver his home state to the GOP but also allow the party to make inroads nationally on a demographic group that tilts heavily to the Democrats.
Josh Kraushaar writes today in the National Journal to point out that a lot of the assumptions about Hispanic voting trends may be myths. Most notable is the idea that Hispanics are likely to stick with the Democrats even generations after they have arrived in the country. He also is correct to point to that the assumption that Republican attitudes on immigration are similarly set in stone. But there is one more point about the Hispanic vote that also ought to be taken into consideration when discussing 2012 and the future.