Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 13, 2016

There’s No Good Time for the GOP on Immigration

Boehner has said he's not inclined to take up immigration in the House this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Boehner has said he’s not inclined to take up immigration in the House this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill apparently have already decided to punt rather than push ahead with their own immigration proposal, but that hasn’t stopped the chatter from the sidelines, especially from those who don’t like the leadership’s decision.

Liberal columnist Greg Sargent and conservative icon George Will both agree that Republicans are crazy to put immigration reform off until after the midterms.

Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza laid out the political argument for Republicans not kicking the can down the road on immigration in his Feb. 9 article, “Why Republicans Shouldn’t Wait to Pass Immigration Reform.”

It’s a reasonable case, based on the timing of the dynamic of the 2016 presidential contest, the nation’s changing demographics and the GOP’s intense dislike of President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act.

From a policy point of view, immigration reform is absolutely crucial. The country is home to more than 11 million illegal immigrants — they broke the law to get here and are not merely “undocumented” — who use government services, drive on the country’s roads and work in a variety of jobs (some of which Americans won’t do, apparently).

Not dealing with that reality merely maintains the status quo, and most responsible people want to take steps to protect the border and yet find a humane way to deal with the people here, some of whom have children who are U.S. citizens.

So, federal action is imperative. In fact, it should have happened already.

And from a purely political point of view, Republicans need to get on the right side of Hispanics — and all voters who see the party as intolerant and uninviting — which means addressing immigration in a way that is both serious and compassionate.

The question for the GOP is only about timing.

Those who want congressional Republicans to take up the issue now argue that 2015 will offer Republicans a more hostile environment because the party’s 2016 hopefuls will be pulled to the right by the presidential campaign, and Democrats will have a disincentive to compromise with the GOP. Given that, they say, Republicans must act now.

That may indeed be the case, but it puts the cart before the horse. As one Republican strategist said to me recently, “It’s nice to plan for the future, but we’ve got to get through the next 10 months before we worry about 2015.”

Nobody can be certain what 2015 will look like, but we have a pretty good idea how 2014 is shaping up. Republicans are likely to have a good election, with the party no worse than even money right now to gain the six seats it needs to win a Senate majority.

An immigration fight this year would be very nasty, with conservatives opposed to a compromise using every option at their disposal to stop legislation. The word “bloodletting” comes to mind.

The national media would play up the division within the GOP, giving full voice to the angriest and least tolerant elements of the party. The fight inside the Republican Party would be much nastier than previous fights over the government shutdown or the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

And Democrats wouldn’t sit idly by. They’d jump on Republicans, too, portraying the party as a collection of tea party extremists and mean-spirited conservatives at war with itself.

Supporters of dealing with immigration reform immediately pooh-pooh the battle, arguing that after a fight of a couple of months, everything would return to normal. Republicans would eventually refocus on the evils of the Affordable Care Act, rallying conservatives against Obama. A GOP civil war over immigration reform, they say, wouldn’t affect the 2014 midterms, as if they have perfect knowledge of what the fight and fallout would look like.

But it isn’t clear that the bitterness of the fight would pass so quickly, or that the fight would not do serious damage to the party’s prospects for 2014.

Moreover, taking up immigration reform wouldn’t guarantee a deal with congressional Democrats or the White House, unless, of course, Senate Republicans and Speaker John A. Boehner are willing to take any deal, no matter the price. And that price could change during the discussion, particularly if Democrats decide that playing hardball is an increasingly attractive option later this year.

What happens if ultimately unsuccessful negotiations stretch out for months, a deal never gets done, and Republicans are blamed for the impasse?

Republicans are deeply divided over immigration, and nobody can be sure about the fallout from a GOP civil war in the spring and summer of 2014. Even enacting some sort of immigration reform, such as legalization without citizenship, isn’t likely to benefit the GOP in 2014 or even in 2016.

Republicans who choose to ignore the changing nature of the population and the electorate are making a huge mistake. But timing is everything in politics, and while the future is always uncertain, the political risks of tackling immigration reform in 2014 are much, much greater than the possible benefits in 2016.

  • Lance Sjogren

    Good. Maybe Chuck Schumer’s Thermonuclear Immigration Genocide bill will never see the light of day.

  • GrayRiv

    Obviously Rothenberg is angling for an extended multi-year vacation from political prognostication starting after November of this year. He must have a condo somewhere sunny. What the Republicans in the House do on immigration in the next ten months will determine politics for the next ten years. The pundits and the GOP can simply sit out 2016. It is over if they don’t act now to end their demographic suicide. If they listen to Rothenberg, Mrs. Clinton’s decorator should already be taking measurements at 1600 Penn.

    • TycheSD

      There is no Republican presidential candidate on the horizon who would be supported by the base if he or she came out for amnesty. Not even someone who seemed so promising – like Marco Rubio, could avoid being seriously damaged for taking up the issue. Popular Republican budget hawk, Paul Ryan, dipped his toes in the amnesty waters, and he became the target of anger from the base. He has since withdrawn. It would take someone extraordinary to sell amnesty to the base – and Jeb Bush ain’t it either.

      Everyone is wise to the tactics used by Boehner and other House GOP leaders in their immigration “principles” to make it seem like amnesty isn’t what’s happening.

      The only way for Republicans to “win” on the issue of immigration is to propose a REAL enforcement first plan, and sell it as a way to protect American workers’ jobs.

      • blfdjlj

        Immigration isn’t such a big issue for Republican voters. In 2008, McCain won the nomination even as he aggressively pushed amnesty the year before. Only 3% of American voters think immigration is the most important issue, and in the GOP most won’t care one way or the other.

    • hacimo

      If the invaders win why should we care who sits in the oval office. This will not longer be our country.

  • DrGeneNelson

    Repeating the last line, “The political risks of tackling immigration reform in 2014 (for the GOP) are much, much greater than the possible benefits in 2016″ The current legislation which passed the Democrat-majority U.S. Senate in June, 2013 is a massive proposal to transfer wealth FROM the American middle class to economic elites. That should be the GOP’s strong rationale for rejecting S. 744.

    • blfdjlj

      It would not transfer wealth from anyone, it would increase overall GDP significantly.

  • Prismatic

    If Republicans win the Senate in 2014, they can effectively end the Obama Presidency two years early forcing Obama to sign a repeal of Obamacare in order to avoid default when the debt limit comes up again in early 2015. To achieve this they need to avoid a intraparty fight over immigration.

    Republicans cannot win the Presidency in 2016 under any foreseeable circumstances and the hope that immigration reform would do that for them is illusory.

    Conclusion: no immigration reform at all. It holds no political advantages for the GOP whatsoever.

    • hacimo

      Who gives a crap about obamacare. We will not have a country if the immigrant invasion continues. It must be stopped and it must be done soon. When we once again have control over our government, it will be time enough to worry about health care arrangements.

  • Niku

    How do you reconcile “doing the right thing” with “get on the right-side of Hispanics”? “Doing the right thing” can only mean getting the Invaders to return to where they came from, and I somehow doubt that you mean that. Eisenhower knew what to do. His “Wetback” program is what we need to return to,m the sooner the better.

  • hacimo

    The changes of the population since the early 1990’s are not simply fixed external events like the weather or an earthquake. The fact that we are being overrun by Hispanic invaders is the result of a deliberate political decision on the part of the democrats. They were aided in their objective by the unlimited greed of the corporate RINO plutocrats. But what was done deliberately and politically can be undone by the same method. The invasion can be defeated and turned back if we take steps to end or slash all third world immigration and if we immediately begin to enforce our laws and prevent the traitors from granting amnesty to the illegal aliens.

  • blfdjlj

    If the GOP doesn’t do immigration this year, and tries to tackle it next year, it will inevitably run into the primary season. By then, Ted Cruz will be ranting about “no amnesty!”, “self-deportation!” etc, all other candidates will move to the right, and it will be too late when the general election period comes to shift course.

    • Dick Fuld

      We can only hope.

      – The United States

    • TRonJ

      Ted Cruz will be highly marginalized by then. He’s not going to be say much.

  • DrGeneNelson

    It seems as if the “pay per posting” people have started to arrive. A glutted labor market drives down wages for workers, while boosting the profit margins of the economic elites. These policies have harmed American scientists and engineers. First was the 1976 passage of the “Eilberg Amendment” that allowed nonprofits, colleges, and universities to hire unlimited numbers of imported professors and researchers. This policy was extended to the private sector via the creation of the H-1B Visa in 1990. Millions of immigrants have arrived in the U.S. via these two controversial programs. They have displaced a corresponding number of Americans. Often the American must train their imported replacement in order to receive their meager outplacement benefit. To learn more, search by title for the PDF version of the 2012 article, “How Record Immigration Levels Robbed American High-Tech Workers of $10 Trillion”

  • Dana Garcia

    The lawbreaking will not end until the lawbreakers are punished, not rewarded.

  • GrayRiv

    And now Stu can stand proudly with those who call immigration reform “genocide” and an “invasion.” Which is another reason why Republicans have to do what the country wants and not what the most motivated and vocal opponents of sensible policy want (a portion of their base). That is the only way the GOP can move on to other things that are much less damaging to the GOP brand, and eventually be a competitive political party nationally again.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...