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On Immigration Reform Steve King Continues to Fill Void Created By Boehner’s Inaction in the House
In comments reported by Business Insider, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus criticized Rep. Steve King (R-IA) – and in the process called Mitt Romney’s signature stand on immigration policy “horrific” and “hurts us.”
In response to questions about King – who in recent weeks has been a one-man wrecking crew with respect to the RNC’s post-election re-branding project – Priebus said:
Using the word ‘self-deportation’ — it’s a horrific comment to make…I don’t think it has anything to do with our party. When someone makes those comments, obviously, it hurts us.
Wow. One year, the GOP standard-bearer Romney is arguing that the best way to deal with 11 million immigrants settled in America is to make life so miserable for them that they are forced out. And the next year, the GOP standard-bearer Priebus is calling this approach horrific.
As much as one is tempted to say that Priebus doth protest too much, the fact is that his statements reflect genuine movement within the GOP. As Greg Sargent pointed out yesterday:
When King says that only a year ago virtually all Republicans would have agreed with him on immigration, in broad strokes policy terms he is absolutely right. Remember, it was only last year that the eventual GOP standard bearer in the 2012 presidential election declared that the solution to the immigration problem was “self deportation.” This continues to go under appreciated, but most Republican lawmakers have been entrenched for literally years now in the position that any kind of legal status for undocumented immigrants — no matter what the conditions — would constitute rewarding lawbreakers, and is therefore unacceptable. Whatever the role of nativism in driving this, the refusal to accept “amnesty” has for a very long time been a near sacred position for GOP officials and their voters, one intimately bound up with deep cultural and moral undercurrents for conservative voters. As frustrating as this position can be, we need to take it seriously when assessing the current state of play. What this means is that, when House Republicans do grapple with the core question of what to do about the 11 million and treat it as a policy problem genuinely worth addressing, it’s not nothing.
The question going forward is which direction Speaker John Boehner is going to choose. Is he going to allow Reps. Steve King, Louis Gohmert (R-TX), Michelle Bachman (R-MN) and the “Hell No” caucus win the day, or is he going to fully support the efforts of Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. John Carter (R-TX), David Valladao (R-CA), David Amodei (R-NV) and others to get to yes on immigration reform with a path to citizenship?
A variation on the same question is this: Is Boehner going to allow Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies (the intellectual author of self-deportation), Roy Beck of Numbers USA, Dan Stein of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and Kris Kobach (the author of the hated Arizona and Alabama anti-immigrant laws, and advisor to the Romney campaign) to brand the GOP as the Party that wants hard working immigrant families to get the hell out, or is he going to get enough of his caucus to side with the majority of Republicans, businesses small and big, high-tech companies, agricultural producers, evangelicals, Catholics, numerous conservative thought leaders and GOP donors?
The choice is stark. As Scott Reed, senior political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said to Politico, “If Republicans don’t pass immigration reform, it’ll be a black cloud that’ll follow the party around through the next presidential election and possibly through the decade.” And as President Obama recently pointed out, “The challenge right now is not that there aren’t a majority of House members, just like a majority of Senate members, who [are] prepared to support this bill, the problem is internal Republican caucus politics.”
The Steve King – Reince Preibus dustup also serves as a reminder of the political resonance of the immigration issue in the 2012 election, a timely conversation given this week’s one-year anniversary of the DREAMer relief DACA program. As America’s Voice noted yesterday, the DACA announcement served as a turning point in the presidential race and helped to generate near-universal consensus in the aftermath of the election that the Republican Party would have to evolve and pass immigration reform. It’s clear that Preibus remembers. It’s clear that King doesn’t. What’s not clear is the path forward that will be taken by Boehner and his leadership team.
12:55 PM EDIT: Business Insider is now retracting their quote from Priebus. They originally reported that Preibus said “when someone makes those comments” about self-deportation, “obviously, it’s racist.” Their correction now has his quote reading “obviously, it hurts us.”