Cantor Shuts Down Simplest Reform on Defense Bill
Last year House Majority Leaders Eric Cantor (R-VA) spoke of how the party needed to champion a measure – the KIDS Act, he called it – that would put young undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship. But last Friday, Cantor made clear that he would block attempts to include a much smaller measure – the ENLIST Act – as an amendment to a defense authorization bill. The ENLIST Act arguably is the least controversial aspect of how America should deal with undocumented immigrants. It would enable young undocumented immigrants to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and over time earn citizenship. By refusing to vote on even a small-bore, non-controversial measure like the ENLIST Act – let alone introducing or voting on broader measures to tackle significant immigration reform – it is clear that Majority Leader Cantor and other Republican leaders are siding with the nativist forces in the GOP, led by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), instead of modernizing the GOP so it can regain its competitiveness with the changing American electorate.
House Republicans have fewer than 40 days to take action on immigration reform before the legislative window closesfor this Congress, and most believe the window will not reopen until after the 2016 elections. As House Republicans close the legislative window, it will open for President Obama to take bold executive action to provide affirmative relief to undocumented immigrants with equities and roots in the United States. Given Cantor’s decision to block the ENLIST Act, it’s not surprising, then, that House Republicans are already setting up the blame game ahead of potential executive action by the President. For example, an unnamed House GOP leadership aide told The Hill newspaper that, “Obama could also help his [legislative] cause by publicly ruling out unilateral action to halt deportations and by promising to enforce any new immigration law fully in the way Congress intended.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
House Republican leadership are crafting a record that will go down in history as a colossal mistake: 1) give Steve King a vote and support his efforts to defund deferred action for young immigrants and subject DREAMers to deportation; 2) block the ENLIST Act, the least controversial and most Republican-friendly measure imaginable; 3) Slow-walk comprehensive immigration reform to death; and 4) attack the President when he steps in to take executive action. This record reveals that the real GOP position toward immigrants in America is that deportation is the only option they are prepared to support.
Are House leaders responding to huge opposition from their base? Hardly. Several recent polls underscore the fact that by siding with King, House Republican leaders are embracing an approach to immigration directly at odds with the wishes of the American public – including Republican voters and self-identified Tea Party supporters. Politico released a new poll that found, “Seventy-one percent of likely voters surveyed — and nine of 10 Hispanics — said they back sweeping change to immigration laws. The support spans party lines: 64 percent of Republican respondents back comprehensive immigration reform, as do 78 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents.” Last week, a poll of self-identified Tea Party supporters found broad support for the tenets of a broad reform package and overwhelming preference for action on immigration reform compared to the status quo, choosing a “deal between the President and Congress” over “the current immigration system the way it is” by a whopping 84-7% margin.
Cantor and other House Republican leaders will never be accused of being profiles in courage. But if they continue on the track they are on, they will be accused of dooming the GOP’s future.