It’s being widely noted that the August recess will be critical for the fate of immigration reform, with opponents doing an excellent job of creating the impression that GOP lawmakers will be hit with a tidal wave of conservative opposition from voters at town hall meetings back home. But Dems are mulling their own way of putting their stamp on the recess.
Democratic aides say they are discussing the possibility of having Dem lawmakers invite House Republicans to do joint, bipartisan town hall meetings on immigration reform in August. The idea — which is in early discussion stages — would be to offer Republican lawmakers an opportunity to show they are genuinely serious about doing something about our immigration problems, even if deep differences over how to proceed remain.
“August is a perfect opportunity for leaders in Washington to come together as Americans, not as Republicans and Democrats, to explain why it is we believe it is time to fix a broken system on a bipartisan basis,” Dem Rep. Xavier Becerra, a member of the House gang of seven negotiating an immigration plan, told me today. “Those conversations hopefully will lead to some joint opportunities between Democrats and Republicans, so when we come back, hopefully we can get it done.”
Becerra added that Dems were hoping to “discuss immigration reform in a bipartisan manner” and that they would be reaching out to Republicans “who are still contemplating what to do.” There’s precedent for this idea: GOP Rep. Luis Gutierrez, another Dem on the gang of seven, has done joint town halls with GOP lawmakers on the issue.
The idea — in which some Dems would extend invitations where appropriate to Republicans in neighboring districts for the joint town halls — is preliminary and may not pan out. But this comes at an interesting moment: It is now being reported by the Washington Examiner that House Republicans don’t have a plan on how they will discuss immigration reform over the recess, suggesting continuing uncertainty over the tone to strike.
Indeed, even if Dems do end up inviting Republicans to joint town halls, Republicans very well might decline. But that might be used by Dems to make the point that Republicans don’t want to get serious about tackling the issue.
Putting aside the possibility of joint town halls, even as Republicans are grappling with how to discuss immigration, proponents of reform will be urging Democratic lawmakers to talk about it as much as possible back home. Some might be reluctant to do so, depending on their districts, but the pitch to them will be that they must keep the issue in the news, so Republican lawmakers have to face questions about it from constituents and reporters.
All of this is thrown into even sharper relief by GOP Rep. Steve King’s now-notorious comparison of DREAMers to drug mules. Republican leaders continue to distance themselves from the remarks. But in the interview with me, Becerra suggested that they pose a challenge to rank-and-file Republican lawmakers, one that goes directly to how they will discuss the issue over the recess. Will they engage it seriously, as Dems are inviting them to do, or will they pander to hard right constituents?
“Republicans are going to have to decide whether they belong to the Steve King faction of the Republican Party, or to the get-it-done faction of the Republican Party,” Becerra said. “They will have to decide whether they are members of the Steve King Republican Party, or members of the Republican Party that wants to join the American people and get this done.”