Will immigration reform cure the GOP’s electoral woes? Republicans aren’t convinced.

June 24, 2013

With the Senate preparing to take key immigration votes this week, the prospect of a comprehensive reform bill becoming law basically boils down to two questions: 1) How many Republicans in the Senate will vote for passage? and 2) Will the GOP-controlled House eventually sign off on it?

These aren't easy questions to answer. One reason is that according to a new poll, Republicans by and large don't see a political urgency to act, despite what many see as a crucial moment for the GOP on the issue.


(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Fifty-eight percent of Republicans say supporting legal status for undocumented immigrants — a cornerstone of the Senate bill and a major reason for conservative opposition — would either hurt the GOP in national elections or wouldn't make much of a difference, according to a new Pew Research Center/USA Today survey. A narrow plurality (39 percent) say it would help in national elections. But on the whole, that's hardly a ringing endorsement for urgent action.

Among Republicans who agree with the tea party, the numbers are pretty similar, with 60 percent saying it would either hurt or make little difference. Ditto among all Americans. In other words, there is a broad consensus that that supporting legal status for undocumented immigrants is not an obvious panacea for the Republican Party.

And that makes it even harder for the conservatives who reform advocates desperately need to win over to sign on to a bill that contains a path to to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

With the reform effort finding its stride in the Senate, the House is the big question mark. What we know is that most House districts tilt heavily toward one party or the other, in part a product of redistricting. Thus, many Republican House members reside in districts where the threat of a primary looms larger than the threat of a general election defeat. And supporting a path to citizenship — dubbed amnesty by critics — assumes major political risks for some of them, risks that most people, and notably most Republicans, don't think will translate to improvements for the party in national elections.

Put another way, Republicans don't even seem to be convinced that taking one for the team will do all that much for the team.

As we've written, because of the many ways Hispanics' policy views are aligned more with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, immigration reform is hardly the cure-all for the party's woes among Latinos. That said, Republicans risk doing further damage to their brand among Hispanic voters by ignoring reform efforts.

But the fact that neither the microscopic political argument (surviving in conservative House districts) nor the macroscopic one (helping the party in national elections) is pushing Republicans en masse toward embracing reform suggests they may ultimately end up more inclined to assume that risk than deal with the perils of embracing a sweeping package that includes a path to citizenship.

Lawmakers slam Snowden: Members of Congress showed little sympathy Sunday for Edward Snowden, who left Hong Kong for Moscow Sunday and asked Ecuador for asylum. “I don’t think this man is a whistleblower,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Added House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Mich.): "When you think about what he says he wants and what his actions are, it defies logic." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) warned that if Snowden "cozies up to the Russian government, the Chinese government, or any of these governments that are perceived still as enemies of ours, I think that will be a real problem for him." A Justice Department spokesman said the U.S. was "disappointed and disagrees with the determination by Hong Kong authorities not to honor the U.S. request for the arrest of" Snowden.

Fixbits: 

The Supreme Court's decisions on landmark gay marriage cases could come as soon as Monday morning.

President Obama on Tuesday will announce in a speech that he plans to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi drew boos at the Netroots Nation conference when she defended the Obama administration's surveillance and said Snowden violated the law.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won't support the Senate immigration bill in its current form.  Meanwhile, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were bullish about the prospect of the measure winning about 70 votes.

“There’s no reason why this guy shouldn’t walk to victory,” Vice President Biden said of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) at a Saturday rally for his Senate campaign.

If Republican Gabriel Gomez loses to Markey, would he run again?

National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander said he doesn’t track or hold an opinion of WikiLeaks.

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark sent out a fundraising email on behalf of "Ready for Hillary" super PAC.

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken's approval rating is a healthy 55 percent in a new poll.

Must-reads: 

"GOP’s divide on immigration best explained by two senators named Jeff" — Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post

"Following a Star, Kerry Applies Personal Touch" — Michael R. Gordon, New York Times

"With election approaching, Gomez, Markey woo voters" — Joshua Miller and Michael Levenson, Boston Globe

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · June 23, 2013