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GOP Autopsy on Immigration: Still Very Dead

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As 2016 Campaign Gets Underway, Republicans Abandon Issue to Anti-immigrant Wing

This week, the Republican National Committee met to evaluate how much progress the Party has made since issuing its post-2012 election autopsy. The recommendation to act on immigration was not only ignored, but stomped on.  As the Associated Press reports:

Yet for all their success in making the administrative changes called for in the RNC’s post-2012 election autopsy, including imposing strict new penalties on states that violate the party’s nominating schedule, the party’s members of Congress have not yet moved on its only policy recommendation.

“In order for our party to grow, we need to have a comprehensive response on immigration,” New Hampshire Republican National Committee member Steve Duprey said. “Even though this session’s been disappointing, I think there’s still room for progress.”

Room for progress? We call that a hole–one that grows bigger and bigger each day as Republicans continue to do crazy things like politicizing the plight of refugee children and voting to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and deport DREAMers.

Instead of deluding themselves about the state of their relationship with Latino, APIA, and immigrant voters after letting Steve King (R-IA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) dictate terms, we urge future-minded Republicans to note the following clips from today:

At the Washington Post, Robert Costa and Sean Sullivan took a look at Senator Lamar Alexander’s victory in yesterday’s GOP primary in Tennessee in a piece entitled, “Why Lamar Alexander’s vote for immigration reform didn’t sink him”:

Sen. Lamar Alexander voted for comprehensive immigration reform. And he lived to tell the tale.

The Tennessee Republican easily won his primary Tuesday against a conservative insurgent who sought to bury him over his vote — a candidate who was backed by the same forces that helped topple Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), including conservative radio host and immigration hardliner Laura Ingraham.

His survival is a testament to an emerging political reality: Republicans who support reform can survive the conservative backlash. It was also another demonstration of how much immigration has been overshadowed on the trail by other issues — in Tennessee, by health care and the economy.

Alexander is one of three Republican senators who voted for this session’s sweeping reform bill, which included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, then faced re-election this year. The other two — Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — also skated to primary wins and avoided extended bouts over their votes. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), another reform advocate, also won.

In other words, the conventional wisdom that Republicans lose by voting for reform is wrong.

Also, at the Washington Post, David Nakamura and Sebastian Payne take a look at the resurgence of the nativist wing of the Republican Party and its political implications:

As lawmakers returned home to begin a month-long summer recess this week and prepare for the final stretch of a competitive midterm campaign, the debate over how to handle the recent influx of Central American children and families across the southern border has pushed immigration back to the national political forefront and presented a sharp conundrum for Republicans.

The crisis has empowered conservatives, whose more restrictionist views on the crisis and the broader issue of dealing with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country have taken precedence in the party. House Republicans are pushing for more deportations, and several of the party’s prospective 2016 White House contenders are moving to align themselves with the GOP’s pro-enforcement wing.

Of particular note is the concern expressed by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) who is running as the GOP Senate candidate in that state:

“I’m extremely frustrated,” said Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is in a tight contest in his bid to unseat Sen. Mark Udall (D) in a state where Hispanics make up 21 percent of the population. “I have been somebody who has been very vocal since I got elected to Congress about the need for immigration reform.”

Gardner doesn’t get it.  Talking a good game on immigration is not the same as taking action.  After voting four times before to end DACA and/or related Obama Administration policies around prosecutorial discretion, Gardner finally voted the “right” way at the end of July.  But when he had a chance to compel a vote on HR 15, the bipartisan comprehensive reform bill that has languished in the House despite its 199 cosponsors, Gardner was a no.  That’s not conviction, that’s opportunism–and hoping that voters will be too stupid to tell the difference.

Greg Sargent at The Plum Line pulled the strands together in a column titled, As GOP lurches right on immigration, sane Republicans watch in horror:

It is increasingly sinking in with the political classes that the border crisis has pushed the Republican Party to the right on immigration — exactly the opposite direction party officials concluded the party should move after the 2012 election suggested it needs to be recast as more inclusive and welcoming.

Sargent continues:

Indeed, GOP operatives with an eye on long term demographics have been screaming at the party for many months now that it is moving in exactly the wrong direction. Yet, as Nakamura and Payne show, that trend has only hastened, because the current crisis has strengthened the “restrictionist” forces inside the GOP.

This strengthening has also been fed by the apparent belief of GOP leaders that keeping the base in a lather is strategically crucial for the coming midterm elections. That may prove right. But it’s also locking Republicans into a far-right position heading into the next nationalelection. And 2016 presidential hopefuls such as Rick Perry and Ted Cruz are seeking to align themselves with those “restrictionist” forces, which raises the possibility that the GOP primary debate on immigration will be, if anything, worse than the one that damaged Romney in 2012.

As the RNC knows, the road to the GOP presidential nomination runs through Iowa, the first caucus state. As Rand Paul learned this week, paying homage to Steve King comes at a price. The video of the interaction between King and DREAMers Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas has over 900,000 views on YouTube. The first 20 seconds, showing Rand Paul, fleeing the scene has garnered enormous media attention, including a segment on the Colbert Report and the empty chair he left behind has become a symbol of the Party’s immigration positioning.

The GOP’s failure to address immigration reform and its lurch even further to the extreme has opened up even more space for President Obama to act boldly on his own, within his existing legal authority.  Knowing that documenting the undocumented is a popular approach (witness the success of DACA), conservatives are trying to gin up a fake legal argument instead.  See this from the Washington Examiner:

Margaret Stock, a Republican immigration lawyer and a Federalist Society member, notes that such accusations don’t appreciate that all this is fully authorized by those laws. “The Immigration and Nationality Act and other laws are chock-full of huge grants of statutory authority to the president,” she explains, a point also emphasized by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in its 2013 brief. “Congress gave the president all these powers, and now they are upset because he wants to use them. Other presidents have used the same authority in the past without an outcry.”

Most accept that the discretion that the executive branch enjoys in enforcing immigration law is as broad as what prosecutors enjoy in criminal law. And the reason is the same: More offenders than means to prosecute makes drastic prioritization necessary. But conservatives argue that failing to prosecute is not the same as legalizing, the further step that the president would be taking by issuing work permits.

But this is incorrect. Until Congress actually passes a law issuing permanent residency, nothing that Obama is suggesting would prevent future presidents from stripping these folks of their temporary status and deporting them. So an executive action falls short of “legalization” or “amnesty.”

But as always, when it comes to Republicans’ hatred for Obama, they won’t let the facts get in the way of their fury.  With Steve King threatening impeachment when Obama moves forward, it’s clear the GOP is planning to double down on the crazy in a way that will hurt the Party irreparably in 2016 and beyond.

Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, said:

Lamar Alexander’s primary victory in Tennessee, like Lindsey Graham’s in South Carolina, is just more evidence that supporting immigration reform is not a political death knell. Yet despite the progress proposed by the RNC’s 2012 autopsy, the party is still letting Steve King and Ted Cruz call the shots. When Cory Gardner, who sided with King for years, is now worried, clearly there’s a problem. And, as Rand Paul learned this week, Republicans can run from the immigration issue, but they can’t hide.  Voters are looking for leadership, and with President Obama about to step up, it’s no wonder that conservatives are grasping at straws.