House GOP Gets a Zero Grade for Progress
As Congress slinks home for the August recess, immigration reform remains the rare example of an issue with potential bipartisan backing and public support from across the political spectrum. Recognizing that a strong majority of the House of Representatives would pass such a bill – today – if it was brought to the floor for a vote, the burden is on House Republican leaders to either move reform forward or be blamed for blocking it. Yet as evidenced by recent media appearances of key House Republicans, they seem disturbingly content to use flimsy process and procedural excuses as substitutes for specific answers to key policy issues.
Below is a quick scorecard on where the reform debate is in the House as we head into the August recess:
- Process: The votes to pass immigration reform exist right now in the House, but influential House Republicans continue to respond to basic immigration policy questions with vague process answers. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) continues to be evasive on the details when asked about policy. Yesterday, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), “A simple yes or no, are you committed to a vote this year on a path to legalization?” Rep. Cantor responded, “We will have a vote on a series of bills at some point. And it will deal with a variety of issues. Border security is a really important issue because it goes to that trust factor, as well.” Rep. Cantor also noted, “I have said that we will be addressing the issue of immigration in the House, according to our terms, not the way the Senate did…” Republican leaders’ reliance on procedure and process – the “Hastert Rule,” “piecemeal” and “step by step” – are excuses for inaction, amounting to little more than throwing sand in the eyes of questioners trying to get straight answers on policy. Grade: Zero.
- Policy: They have no plan for the 11 million. While House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has refused to provide key policy details on his stance regarding legalization and a path to citizenship, one of the few specific policy provisions he has outlined and embraced is the SAFE Act: Draconian, Arizona-like anti-immigrant legislation that, in the words of the New York Times, would turn millions of undocumented immigrants “into criminals overnight.” The bill is a disturbing homage to the worst immigration policy approaches of recent years in that it criminalizes immigrants like the infamous Sensenbrenner bill of 2005, encourages racial profiling like the Arizona “show me your papers” law and embodies the discredited Mitt Romney strategy of “self-deportation.” In addition to the SAFE Act, the House Republican leadership allowed and Republicans voted nearly unanimously in June in favor of an amendment sponsored by notorious anti-immigrant extremist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) that would defund the Deferred Action program and subject DREAMers to deportation. Criminalizing immigrants? Check. Legalization with a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants? Nada. Grade: Zero.
- Public Opinion: The House GOP does not represent American sentiment. New Quinnipiac University polling finds strong support for immigration reform with citizenship, including among Republicans. As Quinnipiac’s poll summary notes, “American voters are united in their 64-31 percent support of the immigration reform act recently passed in the U.S. Senate. Support is strong among every partisan, gender, racial, religious, income and age group.” The poll found that, by a 60%-33% margin, Republican voters support legislation that, “would allow illegal immigrants already in the country to become citizens after 13 years if they pay a fine and learn English. The bill would also double the number of border patrol agents, and double the amount of fencing along the Mexican border.”
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, noted, “The public supports the immigration bill 2-1 and shows unusual agreement given the divisions in the country on many other issues. It seems the only group divided on this issue is Congress.” In addition to the Quinnipiac poll, an array of other recent national and swing district polling has found strong backing for reform with a path to citizenship. This support includes backing among self-identified conservatives and Republicans: 83% of white conservatives support a plan “allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens” in a June/July 2013 Gallup poll; 70% of Republican primary voters support a description of the Senate immigration bill contours per July Basswood Research polling on behalf of Americans for a Conservative Direction. In fact, as Greg Sargent notes in an important assessment of immigration public opinion among Republican voters (a piece that features in-depth analysis from Republican pollster Whit Ayres), “much of the conventional wisdom is wrong: Republican voters do support immigration reform — including a path to citizenship — albeit with the proper conditions attached. Indeed they want to see something done.” Responding to public opinion? Grade: Zero.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
It is well past time for House leaders to stop relying on vague answers and process excuses to slow-walk immigration reform. The key immigration policy question remains ‘what are House Republicans planning to propose for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation, and when will they outline their detailed proposal?’ They need to start answering in specifics, not defaulting to process excuses. Unfortunately, for their party and our country, their scorecard to date is a big fat zero.