President Obama met with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) earlier today, with immigration one of the topics they apparently discussed. In fact, the President and Speaker have some things in common on the issue of immigration: both really want reform to be enacted; and both are coming under fire from immigrants and their allies because of a lack of action. Here are three factors they should bear in mind as they discuss options for moving forward:
1) There’s little chance that immigration reform will be easier in 2015 for Republicans: Despite the wishful thinking of some Republicans and the President himself, the notion that Republicans can block immigration reform in 2014 and successfully take it up in 2015 – when they hope to have both the House and the Senate – is a pipedream. First, the GOP presidential primary season will highlight the party’s divisions and make it highly unlikely that Republicans in Congress will develop a unified approach. As Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently said, “To wait until 2015 when we’re involved in Republican primaries, obviously, would not be a viable scenario.” And the Wall Street Journal recently editorialized that “the opponents will raise the same furor whenever it comes up, and Democrats will be less likely to compromise figuring they can use the issue to drive minority voter turnout in 2016.” Moreover, few Democrats are likely to sign on to any immigration bills drafted by Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee leaders such as Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX). The predictable result of inaction this year? The next time broad immigration reform has a serious chance of gaining traction is on the other side of the 2016 elections.
2) By blocking immigration this year, Republicans are risking an electoral tsunami in 2016: If Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans block reform this year, they may well squander an historic opportunity to shape immigration reform policy and win much-needed credit with key voting groups. Moreover, they would be setting themselves up for a disastrous 2016 electoral cycle. As John Feehery, a former House leadership aide and current Republican consultant, recently noted, “If we don’t pass immigration reform this year, we will not win the White House back in 2016, 2020 or 2024.” In addition, Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats in 2016 – seven in states carried by Obama – while Democrats need only to defend 10 seats. Some experts are suggesting the possibility of a filibuster-proof majority for Senate Democrats. And in an election year in which the voting population swells by a third – especially with Latino, Asian American, immigrant and youth voters – 2016 will present an opportunity for Democrats to take the House, too.
3) The pressure on President Obama to roll back deportations will only intensify, and Republican inaction combined with movement pressure will likely compel him to take bold executive action, and soon: As a number of articles highlight, activists are increasingly turning their energy toward pressuring President Obama and the White House to suspend deportations and grant work permits to millions of immigrants. In 2010 Republicans blocked the DREAM Act, in 2011 advocates pressured the President to take administrative action and in 2012 he provided relief to more than a half million Dreamers through a program called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Republicans are setting up a similar scenario should they block reform this year. As Tamar Jacoby, a longtime pro-immigration reform advocate on the center-right, recently said in response to a question about the growing demand for Obama to take unilateral action: “This is not a new playbook. If Congress goes home in October without taking action, Obama’s in a position to do what he did last time around.” Instead of letting Republicans off the hook, the increased focus on the President and the potential for executive action sets up the worst case political scenario for the GOP: it would further inject immigration into the Republican presidential primary cycle; it would make it clear which party is on the side of Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters – the fastest growing groups of voters in the nation; and it would box the Republican Party in politically – much like President Obama’s DACA announcement did in June 2012.