House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he is ready to “move now” on legislation, saying that “immigration reform needs to be done.”
The 11-term Republican congressman from Virginia told Fox News Latino that the “status quo” on immigration is unacceptable, that he is ready to move on immigration reform now, and that he is willing to wait it out through the midterm elections in order to gain support from a majority of House Republicans, if necessary.
“And I’m ready to move now. I’m ready to move after the election. I’m ready to move in the next Congress,” Rep. Goodlatte told Fox News Latino. “I do believe that immigration reform needs to be done, because the status quo is simply not adequate. And for those who are very concerned about illegal immigration, it should not be adequate for them either.”
If you look inside the numbers from already released post-election polling for the Virginia District 7 primary, immigration was an issue but certainly not the deciding issue or even a big one. Moreover, a panoply of polls over the last year show voters nationwide and GOP voters are amenable to step-by-step immigration reform. Why then do Republican right-wingers keep demanding no action be taken?
As my colleague Michael Gerson wrote recently, “Some conservatives have a long-standing concern that increasing the number of low-skilled workers — as the Senate-passed immigration bill would do — might depress wages among the native-born. The objection is sincere and overblown. When the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution applied the two main economic models to the Senate bill over 10 years, one predicted a small decline in wages for workers with less than a high school education. The other predicted a small increase. The average impact on the wages of U.S.-born workers would be positive in both scenarios. ” He remarks, “This is a very thin technical basis on which to assert an irrepressible conflict between middle-class populism and immigration reform (which would have many other humane and economically constructive benefits).”
So the economics are right and the politics are right, yet the House remains paralyzed. I spoke with longtime GOP adviser Mike Murphy, who is close to former Florida governor Jeb Bush. He said bluntly, “One of the core characteristics of politics is people argue anecdotally.” A guy on talk radio said. . . A group with an e-mail list of 10,000 people wants Y. If you then add in the shrieks from talk radio, you get an unsubstantiated conclusion: Immigration is bad for House Republicans. Murphy observed, “They [Republicans] react to the noisiest, squeakiest wheel. If voters really were anti-immigration reform, we’d be listening to President [Tom] Tancredo.”
Murphy concedes that the intensity on the issue is with the anti-reform forces. Nevertheless, he argues, “In the long run, it is an existential question if Republicans can only get 50-year old white men.” The demographics are such that the GOP can’t continue to lose the largest growing segments of the electorate by huge margins. “We’re going to fade away,” he warns. Some Republicans argue that, well, the GOP can go for the millennial voters. But 25 percent of those are Hispanic, Murphy points out. A working-class or middle-class agenda must also reach non-white voters, for whom immigration reform may be a gateway issue.
The good news is that many in the GOP understand the math and the economics. If they want to move their fellow Republicans it would behoove them to do some fact-based analysis of not only the VA-7 results, but also reputable pollsters over a long period of time. If Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are serious about immigration reform, then they should be encouraging the House to act and giving them some political cover. Instead they are, for the most part, mum.
If Goodlatte and others engage on the merits and offer legalization as a compromise, leaving citizenship for another day and fight, perhaps immigration reform can still get done. But first Republicans have to learn to ignore bad political analysis and not cater to the loud but relatively small cadre of immigration opponents. It’s a big lift, but perhaps they can seize the day.