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Republicans on Course to Repeat Immigration Blunders of 2012 in 2016

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These Days Jeb Bush is on the Outs and Steve King is in Charge

Washington, DC – Last weekend, Jeb Bush said something that once would have been unremarkable.  He said that for many undocumented immigrants, their decision to come to the United States is “an act of love, it’s an act of commitment to your family.”  As the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “Not too long ago that would have been called Reagan orthodoxy.”  The editors went on to say, “Mr. Bush says he’ll decide on whether to run for President by the end of the year, but if he does run he’s already got a better immigration message than the self-defeating ‘self-deportation’ crowd that cost the GOP so dearly in 2012.”

So, the Republican Party is returning to the pro-immigrant approach favored by the Bush family and the Wall Street Journal editorial board?  Not so fast.  The backlash from the right regarding Bush’s comments Republicans has been fierce.  Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Rush Limbaugh, tea party activists and others joined Senator Ted Cruz in taking shots at him.  It seems they want to let Jeb know that they are in charge of party orthodoxy and that the former governor of Florida may have just disqualified himself for 2016.

As Benjy Sarlin of MSNBC recently wrote:

Republicans are close to committing themselves to a 2016 election in which the party’s brand is at least as anti-immigration as their 2012 incarnation…The party will head into 2016 the same way it entered 2012, with a handful of leaders interested in immigration reform who are demonstrably overwhelmed by opponents of even the most minor concessions.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening – and not happening – in the Republican House on immigration.  House Republicans continue to block a broad immigration reform bill – one that would likely pass on a bipartisan basis were it to be brought up for a vote; Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) continues to offer up weak excuses for Republican inaction; and even a recent attempt to help a small group of young DREAMers who want to serve in the military has met with overwhelming opposition.

Can it be?  What greater “act of love” can there be than putting your life on the line for the country you love?  Which makes the dust up in the House over this tiny and popular measure simply stunning.  Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) wants to add the ENLIST Act to the Department of Defense authorization bill as a means to provide “an opportunity for qualified undocumented immigrants to serve the nation they seek to become citizens in.”  After a backlash (sound familiar?), the idea was rejected by Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA).

The ringleader of the effort to derail it?  Rep. Steve King (R-IA) – someone who found a way to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.  He told Breitbart News, “As soon as they [Dreamers who want to serve in the armed forces] raise their hand and say ‘I’m unlawfully present in the United States,’ we’re not going take your oath into the military, but we’re going to take your deposition and we have a bus for you to Tijuana.”

What’s the opposite of an “act of love?”

Unfortunately for the GOP, King seems to be in the driver’s seat.  His amendment to defund the DACA program and subject DREAMers to deportation passed with the support of his colleagues.  Related measures aimed at restricting the right of the President to exercise discretion in the implementation of laws have also been brought up for votes and approved.  A vote on immigration reform with a path to legal status and citizenship?  Hasn’t happened.

This should be kept in mind as the political world looks to Iowa this Friday.  Jeb Bush’s fellow 2016 potential Republican presidential contender Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is traveling to first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa for the state Republican Party’s annual Lincoln dinner.  With many members of the Iowa congressional delegation likely to be in attendance, including Rep. King, the question remains whether Rep. Ryan will have anything to say about the party’s future and the role of Rep. King in defining it.  Rep. Ryan calls himself an immigration reform supporter and recently said “it’s not a question of if we fix our broken immigration laws, it’s really a question of when.”  Yes it is, but at this rate the GOP is unlikely to be a player when reform is enacted.

According to Frank Sharry of America’s Voice:

The GOP is fast-approaching the point of no return on immigration.  If Speaker Boehner, Paul Ryan and other pro-reform Republicans don’t make sure reform with a path to citizenship is brought up for a vote this spring, they may well lose their chance forever.  If they slam shut the window of opportunity for reform this year, the immigration reform movement will shut the door on the GOP by pursuing two other strategies: win bold executive action by the President in the short run, and help elect a Congress and President that will enact immigration reform on our terms in the long run.  This would mean that the GOP heads into 2016 with a brand that would make Mitt Romney shudder.  They will be the party that is hostile to Latinos, Asian-Americans and immigrants; the party that blocked immigration reform when they had a chance; and the party that stood with Steve King and voted to deport Dreamers.  Sure, there’s still a chance for House Republicans to get right on this issue and with the fastest growing group of voters in America.  But they have to take chances and take votes.  Meanwhile, we’ll be keeping an eye on Iowa this Friday to see who stands up to Steve King and who stands with him.