With the Senate clearing an important procedural hurdle on immigration reform yesterday and prospects looking good for a strong bipartisan vote on final passage later this week, attention is moving to the House of Representatives. While the conventional wisdom among the commentariat is that the House will thwart immigration reform, that assumption vastly underestimates key factors. Here are four reasons why beltway insiders should prepare to be surprised this year:
- Paul Ryan and Other Conservatives are Finally Speaking Up. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is playing an under-appreciated role in the House immigration debate, has praised the House bipartisan group’s work on immigration and said that the Hoeven-Corker amendment in the Senate makes enactment of a “similar” bill in the House more likely. Ryan represents a group of conservative Republicans in the House who hold truly conservative views on immigration—you know, business-friendly, free market views—like Reps. Sam Johnson (R-TX), John Carter (R-TX), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Peter King (R-NY), and others. With the vast majority of Democrats already on board, this group of Republicans and their leaders in the House will determine whether commonsense immigration reform lives or dies this year. Until recently, these Republicans have remained silent and allowed anti-immigration restrictionists like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to drive and define the Party on immigration. If this group moves on from positive speeches to positive actions, it changes the whole dynamic.
- FiveThirtyEight Polling Experts: Republicans Support Immigration Reform When Full Description of Legislation Included: Conventional wisdom states that Republican base voters are hostile to immigration reform. However, as a range of polling demonstrates, when provided with a full and accurate description of immigration reform legislation, Republican voters – like all Americans – strongly back reform like the Senate bill. As the polling experts at the New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog assessed recently, “Republican support nearly doubles, on average, in polls that specify the citizenship requirements compared with those that do not. In surveys that do not specify more than one requirement, just 37 percent of Republicans support a path to citizenship. (Most polls have released partisan breakdowns, but those that have not are not included in the average.) In contrast, 72 percent of GOP respondents favored citizenship in polls that laid out the obstacles immigrants here illegally would have to navigate. In other words, Republican support increased by an average of 35 percent. As a result, in surveys that spell out the criteria immigrants may have to meet to become citizens, there is little difference in support among the three major partisan groups. They are within 11 percentage points of one another: 72 percent of Republicans support a path to citizenship with multiple, specified requirements, as do 77 percent of independents and 83 percent of Democrats.” By embracing a pro-immigration reform stance and explaining it accurately, Republicans can actually connect with Latino voters and members of their base at the same time.
- John Boehner’s Legacy: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) said immediately following the 2012 elections, the key to rehabilitating the GOP brand with Latinos is immigration: “This issue has been around far too long…A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.” A range of observers are now highlighting that Speaker Boehner has the opportunity to help forge this common ground. As Joshua Green notes in a BusinessWeek column, “Boehner’s legacy will hinge on immigration reform. It’s the only accomplishment of any significance still feasible given Washington’s chronic sclerosis…unlike debt reduction, which Boehner cannot achieve without the blessing of his caucus, immigration reform will probably present him with a chance to act alone. He’ll be the pivotal figure… it’s fitting that the stakes should be so high. Survive and be forgotten? Or save his party and risk being cast out? His decision will determine his own fate, along with the fate of millions of others.” And Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes, “If the Senate passes reform by a wide margin, Boehner will be in the position of having to decide whether to allow the House GOP to take the blame for killing a historic opportunity to reform our broken immigration system…As for suggestions that the expected noise from the GOP base ensures that reform will die in the House, remember: if the base does kill reform, it will only be because Boehner let it happen.”
While Speaker Boehner has played his cards close to the vest regarding his specific plans, his comments last week to POLITICO were of interest (and more hopeful for reformers than comments made earlier in the week). Said Boehner, “My job isn’t to try to impose my will on 434 other [House] members. My job is to try to facilitate a discussion, and build bipartisan support for a product that will address this broken immigration system that we have.” After the likely bipartisan vote in favor of reform in the Senate – a vote likely to feature over 2:1 support for passage – Speaker Boehner will have the opportunity to put his words into action and to advance reform that the majority of the House wants to see happen.
- Latino voters are willing to take a second look at the GOP, but only if they help pass immigration reform. According to Latino Decisions polling, fully 80% of Latino voters are following this issue in the news, and 78% say it is either extremely or very important that Congress act on immigration reform year. Fifty-nine percent of Latinos disapprove of Republicans’ handling of the issue in Congress, but 52% are willing to give them a second look if Republicans support immigration reform.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
Here’s the calculus that Speaker Boehner is about to face: a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate; strong public support, including among Republicans; and a Latino community that knows the House is the last hurdle to turning positive immigration reform into law. The fundamentals all point in one direction. Are Republican reformers strong enough to overcome resistance from the far right and save their Party? We believe so.