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Benjy Sarlin: GOP Just Can't Quit Its Anti-Immigrant Wing

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For a period of time following the 2012 election, Republicans were recalcitrant about their approach to immigration reform and Latino voters.  The Latino vote overwhelmingly went to Obama over Romney, helping Obama secure the election, and Republicans blamed policies like self-deportation for the loss.  Countless Republican commentators registered their support for immigration reform and their belief that legislation needed to be passed.  The RNC even put out a 2012 autopsy report where the sole policy prescription was for reform.

Fast forward to a year later, and many Republicans have backslid on this support.  The House GOP continues to stall on legislation, refusing to make progress even though key House leaders still say that reform is a necessity.  And House Republicans have actually taken steps in the opposite direction, giving Steve King a vote on his amendment to deport DREAMers, then doubling down on that sentiment by approving the ENFORCE Act and the Faithful Execution of the Law Act.

At MSNBC today, Benjy Sarlin has a piece about how House Republicans just can’t seem to quit their anti-immigrant wing.  Because Speaker Boehner and the rest of the leadership keep allowing Steve King and his cohorts to run the show on immigration, Republicans are in danger of heading into 2016 with no more of a positive record to show Latino voters than they had in 2012.  Read Sarlin’s piece here or below (emphasis ours):

The House GOP appears ready to complete a 360-degree turn since the 2012 election. After a year of inaction, they’ve not only failed to enact meaningful immigration reform, they’re now on record to the right of Mitt Romney, the candidate whose disastrous showing with Latino voters spurred them to revisit the issue in the first place…

Of course, many Republican members of Congress say it’s unfair to characterize their positions as anti-reform. After all, House leaders just months ago produced a set of principles for reform that included a path to legal status and possibly citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It’s just that members don’t like the idea of, say, dealing with the issue in the wrong committee. Or they don’t like the timing of the debate. Or they like an immigration bill, but they don’t want to force a vote on it. Or they don’t trust the president 71% of Latinos voted for enough to negotiate a deal.

Who knows, maybe there’s some policy merit to the excuses. Politically, though, Republicans are close to committing themselves to a 2016 election in which the party’s brand is at least as anti-immigration as their 2012 incarnation.

The problem is exacerbated by what little immigration-related legislation that has gotten a vote this year. An amendment by anti-immigrant icon King to stop an Obama-initiated program protecting DREAMers from deportation passed in 2013 with almost unanimous Republican support. So did theENFORCE Act this year, a bill that gives Congress greater ability to sue the administration over executive actions, partly in response to Obama’s immigration order. Maybe Speaker John Boehner will find time for some more friendly bills, but this week’s military meltdown doesn’t exactly bode well for dramatic action.

Nor is the worst necessarily over. Immigration advocates widely expect Obama to take further executive action to halt some deportations once he and Democratic leaders conclude there’s no credible route to a deal with the House. Putting the policy merits aside, any such move would produce an immediate backlash pitting Latino and immigrant rights groups against enraged Republicans.

What do House Republicans have on the other side of the ledger? A non-binding memo by House GOP leaders that only 19 Republican members will even admit they support, per Roll Call, which asked the entire caucus for their position.

Unless Boehner has a major surprise in store this year or (even less likely) next Congress in the middle of a Republican presidential primary, the circle of outreach looks close to completion. The party will head into 2016 the same way it entered 2012, with a handful of leaders interested in immigration reform who are demonstrably overwhelmed by opponents of even the most minor concessions.