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Political Consequences of DREAM Vote to Be Felt in 2012 and Beyond

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Short-Sighted Vote Against DREAM Act Not Soon Forgotten By Latino Voters

Washington – Although a majority of U.S. Senators voted in favor of the DREAM Act last Saturday, the 55-41 vote failed to meet the 60 vote threshold and will not advance.  This is particularly disappointing given the fact that the legislation had already passed the House and was just five votes shy of reaching the President’s desk.

The political consequences for those who voted against the DREAM Act will be felt in 2012 and beyond.  On Saturday, millions of Latino voters watched the DREAM vote, as both major Spanish-language networks, in an unprecedented move, interrupted regular programming to carry the vote live.  Images such as angry Republican floor statements dismissing the efforts of the DREAMers and moral clarity of the DREAM Act, the vote count showing most Republicans and some Democrats voting no, and, following the vote, the talented young Latinos crying and expressing resolve to fight on will stay with a community that is coming of age politically.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Latino voters will remember the names of those who stood with them, and those who blocked the doors of opportunity for their best and brightest young people.  Combine the vote against DREAM with the expectation that Republican state legislatures across the country will rush to pass anti-immigration bills like Arizona’s, and the fact that Republicans will be defined in the next Congress by the likes of radicals such as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), and it’s difficult to see how the Republican nominee for President has a shot at winning in 2012.”

Republican senators voted against the DREAM Act 36 to 3 (with 3 Republican senators not voting).  Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN), Bob Bennett (R-UT), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) deserve special commendation for standing up to the nativist voices within their Party and voting for this sensible legislation.  Democratic senators voted for the legislation 52 to 5 (with 1 Democratic senator not voting).  Senators who deserve special condemnation are those who voted for DREAM in 2007 but switched to no votes in 2010: Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).  Special thanks go to those who were no votes in 2007 and became yes votes in 2010: Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Arlen Specter (D-PA).

In the aftermath of the vote, political analysts are already predicting it will have a major impact on 2012 politics. 

  • The Latino Community Embraced this Bill – And Won’t Forget Who Blocked their DREAMs.  A range of prominent Latino leaders raised their voices in support of DREAM and promised to hold senators accountable for “no” votes.  From the conservative evangelical leader Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), who said: “opposition to the DREAM Act must be interpreted as both politically naïve and morally irreconcilable with any pro-family agenda,” to National Council of La Raza (NCLR) President Janet Murguía, who said, “It is now crystal clear to Latinos in this great nation who stood with them and who did not,” support for DREAM and anger over its blockage crossed ideological lines.  After the vote, Spanish language media celebrity Jorge Ramos tweeted the names of the 41 senators who voted no and wrote ‘don’t forget them in 2012.’  It’s a safe bet Ramos and other Spanish language pundits will be repeating their names often over the next two years.
  • Spanish-Language Media Provided Wall to Wall Coverage of the Vote and Its Aftermath. The DREAM Act generated intense coverage in the Spanish-language media for weeks, including the unprecedented fact that Telemundo and Univisión both carried the Senate vote live.  In addition to Univisión and Telemundo – which regularly beat out English-language networks in overall viewership and among key demographics – Spanish-language print outlets followed the DREAM debate closely and harshly condemned those who voted against the legislation.  For example, the post-vote editorial in La Opinión stated, “Voters must not forget their frustration. When a political party speaks to Latinos about family values, remember how its members acted in the hour when they were called upon to help these young people. They denied them education and labeled them criminals. The price for this vote should be paid in the voting booth.”  La Opinión is the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the U.S., the second-most read newspaper in Los Angeles, and is widely read online.
  • Strategists and Commentators Condemn GOP Political Stupidity in Opposing DREAM.  On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” yesterday’s weekly roundtable discussion highlighted the short-sighted and damaging politics for the Republican Party in opposing the DREAM Act.  NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said, “The dumbest thing that the Republicans did was the DREAM Act. … that is going to turn out to be a real setback for Republicans because these are people who wanted to serve in the military and get educated and contribute to the society.”  Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker noted, “To tell people who’ve been through high school, high school presidents going on to college some of the best brains who have no relation to their home country. This is crazy. It’s hurting America.”  Republican strategist Mark McKinnon noted, “The Republican Party has got to recognize Hispanics are the huge growing demographic in this country…We gotta send the right signal to Hispanics in this country in addition to the fact that it’s the right policy.” 
  • Pollsters Predict the DREAM Vote will Hurt GOPers in 2012.  A new analysis by Latino Decisions highlights the fact that this legislation was overwhelmingly popular with Latino voters.  As Latino Decisions writes, “75% of Latino voters said it was very or extremely important for the DREAM Act to be passed by Congress, with another 13% saying somewhat important — that’s 88% all told who thought it was important for Congress to pass DREAM.”  The analysis goes on to point out that senators who vote against DREAM and represent states with large numbers of Latino voters could face political trouble their next election, specifically highlighting the anti-DREAM votes of senators up for re-election in 2012, such as Arizona Senator Jon Kyl (R) and Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R).  Writes Latino Decisions, “As the 2012 election cycle takes shape, and the issues are defined and debated, it is unlikely that votes on the DREAM Act will be forgotten by Latino voters, 88% of whom supported the bill’s passage. If any lesson was learned in 2010, it should be to not underestimate the Latino electorate, which is growing in size, and influence in each successive election.” Included in the list of at-risk senators is now Senator Lemieux (R-FL).  His no-vote, despite serving a state with a constituency of over 20 percent Latinos, will inevitably be his downfall when he next faces a general election where he must own up to his decision.

Said Sharry, “After years of blocking comprehensive immigration reform and rallying around unconstitutional and un-American laws like Arizona’s SB1070, the majority of Republicans who voted to slam the DREAM Act’s doors of opportunity shut in the faces of thousands of Latino kids may seem intent on committing political suicide.  Though a handful of Democrats, most notably Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), joined the Republicans in opposing DREAM – in ways that will probably haunt their careers going forward – the vote revealed an unfortunate partisan divide over what should be and what traditionally was a bi-partisan bill.  As many Latinos have been saying over the weekend, ‘if you don’t vote for us, don’t expect us to vote for you.’”

 America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.