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Immigration in the House: Not Just “How Will They Do It?” It’s Also “What if They Don’t?”

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With immigration reform having passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote, attention is now focused on the House of Representatives.  Pundits are immediately jumping to the question, “how will immigration reform pass the House?”  However, an equally important question is “what happens if the House blocks immigration reform?”

While there is much discussion of the specific procedures and processes of how Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) might move forward, as there should be, we also need to ask what happens if he loses control of the debate to the House anti-immigrant wing and the House kills reform.  Here are but a few of the predictable consequences:

  • The Steve King Wing of the GOP Will Remain the Face and Voice of the Republican Party to Latino Voters: As Latino Decisions writes in a new analysis, “The Republican Party is at a crucial crossroads.  If House Republicans stall or block immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants, it will be almost impossible for the party to compete nationally for Latino votes…As we noted in our May 3, 2013 post, Latinos will view Republicans even more negatively than they did in 2012 if the GOP now blocks the immigration bill” (full analysis with data available here).  In addition to Latino voters, other portions of the electorate that are growing in size, such as Asian-American voters and younger Americans, are overwhelmingly supportive of immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  Success in blocking reform means the GOP’s modernization project is stillborn.
  • The GOP Can Kiss Their Chances of Retaking the White House Goodbye: Whether or not the Republican Party works to share credit in passing immigration reform will likely determine their viability in future national elections.  They either follow the George W. Bush 2004 model (Latino support in the 40% range and wins in Latino-heavy swing states) or the Mitt Romney 2012 model (Latino support in the low 20% range, losses in Latino-heavy swing states).  Major Republican donor Fred Malek tells the Washington Post, “Thoughtful people in the donor community fully recognize that our Republican Party is seen by many as intolerant, and that we will never again win a national election unless we embrace policies more appealing to the large, growing, and influential group of Hispanics in our country.” And Karl Rove wrote in a Wall Street Journal response to the burgeoning conservative counter-argument that the GOP doesn’t need more Latino support, “The reality is that the nonwhite share of the vote will keep growing.  As the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen pointed out in a recent speech, the nonwhite vote as a share of total voters has increased in every presidential election since 1996 by 2% (much of it Hispanic) while the share of the white vote has dropped by 2% each election.  If the GOP leaves nonwhite voters to the Democrats, then its margins in safe congressional districts and red states will dwindle—not overnight, but over years and decades.”
  • We Will Leave Nearly a Trillion Dollars in Deficit Reduction on the Table: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of the Senate immigration bill noted that its passage would boost economic growth and significantly decrease the federal deficit.  In fact, immigration reform will cut the deficit by $197 billion in the first decade and $700 billion in the second decade.  In the process, the CBO eviscerated one of the arguments that bill opponents had hoped to use to justify their opposition to reform.
  • Cede the Initiative to President Obama & the Political Benefits to Democrats:  If the House blocks reform, the President will be free to build on his very successful executive move to protect Dreamers and unilaterally extend relief and work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants.  This would make the Democrats and Obama the heroes, leave the Republicans sputtering in opposition and turbocharging the current political dynamics around immigration.
  • Dismiss Majority Public Support for Reform: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) recently noted his preference for, “legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people.”  While much speculation focuses on how the Speaker will navigate a good bill through the rocky shoals of the divided GOP House, there is no doubt where the “majority” of the public and policymakers are on this issue.  The American people strongly and consistently support immigration reform modeled along the lines of the Senate bill.  And this includes base Republican voters, as FiveThirtyEight polling experts explain.  The Senate passed its immigration legislation by a margin of greater than 2:1 – and the 68 votes in favor included Democrats facing tough re-election battles and conservative Republican Senators representing deep red states.  In fact, Senators who voted to support immigration reform represent over 81% of the U.S. population and only 19% of Americans live in states where both senators voted no on immigration reform.  In fact, we believe that right now there is a bipartisan majority in the House that would vote for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  Blocking majority will in a democracy is a prescription for eventual political defeat.