As Conservative Conference Convenes, Will CPAC Drag the Party Backward
If last week’s controversy over Jeb Bush’s immigration position showed just how quickly the politics of immigration reform have shifted, this week shows that the Republican Party continues to lurch forward in a messy, but necessary, realignment toward the center on this issue.
After a period of positive developments that show momentum for immigration reform building in conservative circles, all eyes will be on the speeches and discussions at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this week to see if they got the memo and are ready to do their part to help remake the GOP’s image with Latino voters, or if they will continue to drive the Party towards extinction.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “The Republican Party and the conservative movement face a momentous choice. They either remain tethered to the slice of the party that favors ‘self-deportation’ and immigrant-bashing, or they embrace common sense immigration reform and work to regain their competitiveness with Latino voters. The CPAC conference will be yet another indicator of how the conservative movement responds to this existential challenge.”
A few highlights from the week so far:
- South Carolina Ad and Conservative Voices Stand Up for Lindsey Graham and Immigration Reform: A new television ad in South Carolina from the group Republicans for Immigration Reform along with a new coalition of conservative business, religious, and agricultural voices from South Carolina speaking up on behalf of immigration reform, shows that conservative constituencies are increasingly emboldened and supportive of real reform. More importantly, these voices are speaking up to thank Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for his leadership on reform legislation. The SC television ad features Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Derreberry saying, “Today’s immigration laws are not written for today’s South Carolina businesses. South Carolina businesses will not be able to continue to grow without real immigration solutions. Senator Graham is right on target fighting for immigration reform today. He knows how important it is for South Carolina businesses — he knows that for South Carolina to compete in the 21st century we have to be able to update our immigration laws. A modern economy needs modern immigration laws and Senator Graham gets that.” As Cameron Joseph of The Hill notes in a piece titled, “Lindsey Graham Gets Air Cover on Immigration,” the new ad “is the opening salvo in the group’s efforts to defend pro-reform Republicans against attacks from the right.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press in South Carolina reports, “A coalition of religious, agriculture and chamber of commerce groups is coming together to press for immigration reform. A session by the Palmetto State Coalition Reform is being held Wednesday to ask national leaders to support a comprehensive reform of the nation’s immigration policy. Coalition spokesman Shell Suber says the coalition is getting support from farm groups such as the South Carolina Farm Bureau, the Palmetto Agribusiness Council and the Spartanburg County Baptist Network. Suber says representatives of the Charleston Metro Chamber and the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce also are supporting the group.”
- “New Supporters Help Juice Immigration Reform Negotiations”: As this article in U.S. News & World Report makes it clear, many new supporters helping to “juice” the prospects for immigration reform are conservative and Republican. For example, Fox News Latino writes that the National Federation of Republican Women, one “of the largest women’s political organizations,” unanimously approved a resolution that urges “political leaders to reform the U.S. immigration system in a way that will tighten border security but also offer a pathway to legalization to immigrants who meet strict criteria.” In San Diego, CA, Elizabeth Aguilera of the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “An unusually broad coalition of business, labor, law-enforcement, religious and civic leaders will launch a joint campaign for federal immigration reform Wednesday. The group, called San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform, includes the founder of Qualcomm, the company’s chairman and CEO, the county district attorney, the county sheriff, the police chiefs for San Diego and Chula Vista, Malin Burnham of the Smart Border Coalition, the head of the county farm bureau, the leader of the region’s biggest labor union, the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and two former state lawmakers.”
- Republican Immigration Hearings in House Feature Pro-Immigrant Themes & Witnesses: A series of recent immigration hearings in the House of Representatives feature a surprising number of pro-immigration reform sentiments and majority witnesses. In contrast to past years, when the loudest voices among House Republicans on immigration belonged to Lamar Smith and his cronies as they mocked and demonized immigrants (read about this choice example of a hearing Smith chaired last April), Republicans (most recently Reps. Spencer Bachus and John Carter) have indicated a willingness to work together to fix the immigration system. The hearings Committee Chairman Goodlatte and Subcommittee Chairman Gowdy have convened to ‘educate’ members about various problems with the immigration system, and what steps need to be taken to fix them, have typically featured consensus among witnesses that broad reform that addresses the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country is the only serious solution. The jury is still out on whether Goodlatte, Gowdy and House Republicans will listen to the experts they brought in, or go off the demographic cliff with Lamar Smith and Lou Barletta.
Will CPAC Take Notice of Changed Immigration Landscape?
At last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Mitt Romney’s immigration advisor Kris Kobach outlined the hardline immigration approach that eventually played a major role in Romney’s historically low level of support from Latino voters in November’s election: “If you want to create a job for a U.S. citizen tomorrow, deport an illegal alien today,” said Kobach in 2012. At this year’s CPAC, which starts tomorrow, Republicans and conservatives will have the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not they recognize that that the immigration landscape has changed since last year’s elections.
On Thursday morning, CPAC will hold an immigration panel discussion titled, “Respecting Families and the Rule of Law: A Lasting Immigration Policy.” The scheduled panelists include Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Helen Krieble of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation – both stated advocates of immigration reform that would include the establishment of a permanent underclass of Americans, rather than a road to earned citizenship. The panel also includes Jennifer Korn of the Hispanic Leadership Network and Republican pollster Whit Ayres – both of whom have advocated for the Republican Party to embrace more substantial immigration reform as a component of renewed outreach to Latino voters. We’ll be following the panel discussion and other speeches from prominent conservatives and Republicans closely. In regards to the ongoing conversation in Republican circles about immigration reform and the GOP’s challenge to rehabilitate its image among Latino voters, Washington Post conservative political blogger Jennifer Rubin aptly assesses, “conservatives are kidding themselves if they think they can win national or statewide without changing their tune on immigration. As [Marco] Rubio said, so long as they want to deport your grandmother, a Republican isn’t going to get a hearing with minority voters.”
America’s Voice Education Fund — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform