One of the most bipartisan aspects of immigration reform is the inability of the Republican and Democratic leaders to talk honestly about it.
Simply look at how Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, handled the issue last week.
Rather than provide hard facts, they reverted to the political parties’ default position: Recrimination for political point-scoring. The problem for Republicans, though, is the issue benefits Democrats more in presidential election years.
Priebus went first Wednesday when he appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and fumbled an answer to a question about why immigration was only mentioned in the Republicans’ Spanish-language response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.
“I don’t know, I mean I think, look I did an actuality [sic] yesterday, too, so that we sent it out to all affiliates that, you know, if you can take clips,” Priebus said.
That’s what he said. It was so garbled that the DNC mocked him in an email with the snarky-crude subject line “WTF?”
Priebus apparently meant to say that Republicans had made multiple responses, and that the Spanish-language version given by Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo was just one among many.
When pressed about why Curbelo’s official response differed from Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s on immigration, Priebus found his footing — or at least his talking points.
“The president’s kind of screwed things up in regard to immigration reform by overreaching, by taking his executive action,” Priebus said.
What Priebus didn’t say: The GOP-led U.S. House blocked a full vote on a bipartisan Senate immigration-reform bill for two years. That bill would have dealt with Obama’s executive actions that temporarily spared millions from deportation, including DREAMers, young undocumented people who were brought to or remain in this country illegally because of their parents.
The same GOP that opposed comprehensive immigration reform before Obama became president (and before and after his two executive actions) continues to do almost nothing about it.
And now that Republicans control the U.S. Senate, there’s no movement to deal with the issue at the moment.
One of the most-recognizable Republican figures advocating for immigration reform, Sen. Marco Rubio, is now pitching a new plan that’s ostensibly designed to gain GOP votes in Congress. In many ways, Rubio is reverting to positions that he held before joining the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Eight,” which passed the comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013.
First off, Rubio wants a series of bills to increase enforcement (both at the border and internally) and make the immigration system based on merit instead of family relationships. That is, high-skilled in-demand workers would get immigration preference.
After those reforms, Rubio says, some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country should be given a shot at legal permanent — not a full pathway to citizenship as the Senate bill would have allowed.
Rubio never said he opposed a pathway to citizenship. And he didn’t say he opposed the 2013 Senate bill. He says his new plans are designed to get some reforms passed.
But Wasserman Schultz, a Weston congresswoman, made it clear Friday that it probably doesn’t matter in her eyes.
“Marco Rubio went from supporting the legislation that passed the Senate to opposing it once his tea party supporters really gave him a backlash,” she said, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
“Marco Rubio needs to first figure out which way the wind is blowing when it comes to committing on his position on any given issue,” she said. “He was for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship before he was against it.”
While both Wasserman Schultz and Priebus can’t get their facts straight, their misrepresentations aren’t equal.
History indicates that Democrats will win this electoral round of the immigration game. In presidential election years, Hispanics tend to vote in far bigger numbers than they do in midterm elections. And the Hispanic vote is crucial in swing states like Nevada, Colorado and Florida — without which a Republican candidate likely can’t win the presidency.
Immigration isn’t the only issue Hispanics vote on, but it’s a gateway topic. And not only has the GOP blocked immigration reform, some high-profile Republicans have had a tendency to make comments about immigrants that do little to help the party expand its reach nationwide beyond non-Hispanic whites.
Enter U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.
Before Obama’s State of the Union, King Tweeted: “Obama perverts ‘prosecutorial discretion’ by inviting a deportable to sit in place of honor at #SOTU w/1st Lady.” King later said he was being “kind and gentle” by using the phrase “deportable.”
Over the weekend, King held an “Iowa Freedom Summit” for potential Republican presidential candidates. Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, potential White House candidates whose immigration positions King has criticized, skipped it.
But DREAMers showed up and protested. Two were arrested. Wasserman Schultz also appeared and bashed those at the event. She earlier told the Sun-Sentinel that Rubio and Bush “can’t pick a side” and deserved little credit for not going.
“It’s really tough to be a Republican right now,” Wasserman Schultz said. “They continue to be in the midst of a civil war.”
In some ways, immigration is a war (Bush co-authored a book called “Immigration Wars”). And Republican and Democrat leaders alike have shown that the truth is a mere casualty.