As lawmakers prepare to return to Washington after Labor Day, a few inside-the-Beltway pundits have blithely predicted that, “immigration reform is dead.”
This, in the face of headlines that uniformly declare that the forces of reform – and Progressives of all sorts – have dominated the August town meeting circuit. And the vaunted anti-immigration reform backlash is nowhere to be found — except perhaps in the imagination of Congressman Steve King.
In fact, there are many good reasons to predict that the odds are very good the GOP House Leadership will ultimately allow a vote on an immigration reform bill containing a pathway to citizenship this year. If such a bill is called, the odds are close to one hundred percent that it will pass.
That is because, right now, there are more than enough votes on the floor of the House to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship if it is given an up or down vote. The only question now is whether the House Leadership decides that it is in their political interest to call the bill.
The GOP leadership understands that if an immigration reform bill passes, the Democrats will get the credit with key immigrant constituencies and many suburban swing voters. But they are also coming to realize that if they do not call the bill, they will get the blame with those same constituencies – and that could lead to both short-term and-long term disaster for the Republican Party.
Here are the top five reasons why immigration reform is likely to pass this year:
Reason #1: In order maintain control of the House, Republicans can afford to lose a maximum of seventeen seats in the mid-term elections. There are 44 districts currently held by Republicans where significant numbers of the voters (12% or more) are either Hispanics or Asian Americans. Of that number, as many as 20 may be seriously in play in 2014.
The mid-term elections are all about turnout. If Hispanic and Asian American voters are sufficiently enraged by Republican refusal to pass immigration reform, the GOP high command fears that they will register to vote and turn out in substantial numbers. That could easily tip the balance in terms of control of the House of Representatives.
And don’t think that immigration reform is “just another issue” for Hispanics and Asian Americans. It doesn’t matter whether you yourself would be personally impacted, a politician’s position on whether they are for or against immigration reform has become symbolic for “are you on my side?” – “do you stand for or against my community?”
To get a sense of the intensity of feeling, all you need do is attend any of the literally hundreds of pro-immigration reform events and town meetings that have been held over the August break. People are fired up and ready to go.
The polling is equally clear. A poll taken of voters in key swing districts currently controlled by Republicans conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) in early July showed:
Republican and Independent voters want Congress to pass a solution to our country’s broken immigration system.
Many are less likely to support Republicans if the House fails to pass immigration reform this summer.
According to a press release issued the by the polling firm:
Voters in CA-10 (Jeff Denham), CA-21 (David Valadao), CA-31 (Gary Miller), CO-6 (Mike Coffman), MN-2 (John Kline), NV-3 (Joe Heck), and NY-11 (Mike Grimm) all
say they would be less likely to vote for their Congressman next year if he opposes
immigration reform. Voters in those districts also say they will be inclined to punish the Republican Party more broadly if the House GOP does not allow immigration reform to move forward.
Reason #2: The Republican Leadership will be under enormous pressure from the Republican establishment – GOP donors, 2016 Presidential aspirants and other stakeholders – not to permanently damage the GOP brand with the exploding number of Hispanic and Asian American voters.
The November 2012 election results were a shocking wake-up call for the GOP establishment. Many actually expected to win. Up until election night they lived in denial of America’s changing demographics. Now they are scrambling to “rebrand” the party with Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, single women, and young people.
If the GOP refuses to call a vote on a pathway to citizenship in the House and is blamed for blocking immigration reform, that could alienate many of those constituencies – and especially Hispanics – for decades to come.
Texas is a case in point. Already Texas is a majority minority state. Even now, if Hispanics and African Americans registered and voted at the same rate as other voters, the GOP would find it difficult to count on the state’s electoral votes in Presidential elections. But Texas’ Hispanic population is growing. Even at current levels of voter participation, the GOP risks losing Texas if it becomes a permanent pariah Party among Hispanics.
Without Texas, it is almost impossible to put together a path to Republican Presidential victory at any time in the near future.
Reason #3: The more GOP leaders like Representative Steve King (R-IA-4) continue to make outrageous comments like the one about the “cantaloupe-sized calves” that immigrants get from “transporting hundreds of pounds of drugs” through the desert, the harder it is for the Republican Leadership in the House to resist pressure from the GOP establishment to call a vote on immigration reform.
The more that Congressman King – and his colleagues like Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX-1), or Congressman Don Young of Alaska (R-AK-AL) – who referred to Hispanics as “wetbacks” — continue to spew anti-immigrant bigotry, the worse off they are not only with Hispanics and other immigrants – but with independent suburban women and young voters.
If independent suburban women and young voters are left with the view that the GOP is being led by – and defined by — the Steve Kings of the world, many of them will desert the party in droves. They will react the same way independent voters reacted in Missouri and Indiana to the outrageous comments about women and rape by losing GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
That would not only be a disaster for the GOP’s Presidential hopes in 2016 – it would make it even more likely that the GOP will lose control of the House in 2014 since it makes it even harder for them to hang onto to Republican-held suburban seats in the Northeast and Midwest.
Reason #4: Increasing portions of the GOP base actively support comprehensive immigration reform.
It’s not just the immigrant community and Progressives pressing the GOP leadership to call a vote on a pathway to citizenship. Many conservative voices have begun to actively campaign to pass immigration reform.
A large table of Evangelicals lead by national Evangelical leaders is working hard to persuade Republicans to vote yes – and call a vote in the House. They have spoken at Republican town meetings, taken out ads, and met privately with many GOP members.
Especially in the south, primary challenges are generally fueled by the Evangelical wing of the party. Evangelical support neutralizes the fears of many GOP representatives that a vote for immigration reform could subject them to a primary. That has weakened opposition to reform among Republicans who are more concerned about Primaries than General Elections.
Pro-immigration reform Evangelical activists have teamed up with leaders from the business community to support a pathway to citizenship. In GOP circles that is a powerful combination.
Business, Evangelical and law enforcement figures have done an increasingly effective job not only at making their case to the Leadership, but providing political cover to Republican House Members with few immigrants in their districts.
Reason #5: The polling shows that the biggest vulnerability for the GOP next year is the fact that persuadable voters increasingly believe that the Republicans in Congress are simply incapable of governing. Voters hate the gridlock and increasingly blame Republicans for obstruction. Increasingly, swing voters believe that the GOP is willing to sacrifice the good of the country for narrow partisan ideological reasons. In fact, voters have begun to think the GOP is just plain old incompetent.
If the Republican Leadership allows its extremist wing to block immigration reform even thought it passed the Senate on a strong bi-partisan vote, has majority support in the House, and the support of most Americans — that will become Exhibit “A” in the case for throwing them out of power.
And if they manage to shut down the government – either in a futile attempt to “defund ObamaCare” or to prevent the government from paying its creditors (the debt ceiling) – and stop immigration reform – the case will be set in stone.
For their own good, the Republican Leadership simply can’t allow that to happen.
I for one do not believe that the Republican Leadership will be so stupid – will so badly misplay its hand – that it will allow a tiny minority of extremists to fundamentally jeopardize the Party’s near-term and long-term future.
Of course, stupider things have happened. But rest assured that if they do, the growing movement for immigration reform – not to mention the Democratic Party – will make the GOP pay the price.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.