Judging from the immigration debate now roiling the House, probably not. Although Bush’s public approval ratings are on the rise, he is a fast-fading memory on Capitol Hill, where more than half of the 234 House Republicans arrived on the scene after he departed.
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), who last month dropped out of bipartisan talks to develop a comprehensive House immigration bill, said Bush’s views would have little impact.
“Anybody has to take an ex-president’s word seriously, but he’s just another voice on this issue. He’s not going to be the definitive voice,” Labrador said in an interview.
He added that House lawmakers “are all independent actors here. We’re not little kids waiting for someone to tell us how to vote and act.”
Bush has twice in the past two weeks delivered a gentle but clear message that his party should embrace an overhaul of border control laws for the good of the nation, without fear of recriminations from the party’s conservative base. Bush failed to persuade Congress to pass a similar reform package in 2007 — a setback that he has called one of his biggest disappointments as president.
“I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate,” Bush said Wednesday at a naturalization ceremony for 20 people from 12 countries at his presidential library in Dallas. “And I hope during the debate that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country. . . . At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation.”
The 43rd president’s political reemergence, after choosing to remain out of the spotlight since leaving office in 2009, serves as a stark reminder of the political challenges facing the current GOP, whose support among Latino voters has plummeted since Bush won an estimated 44 percent of their vote in 2004. Eight years later, exit polls showed Republican nominee Mitt Romney winning just 29 percent of the fast-growing Latino electorate, leading to a round of anguished self-examination about the party’s future.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill last month that includes a path to citizenship for up to 11 million illegal immigrants. But House leaders said after a House GOP conference meeting Wednesday that they will not hold a vote on the Senate legislation, opting instead for a series of smaller bills that, so far, do not include a path to citizenship.
A spokesman for Bush said the timing of his Wednesday remarks was purely coincidental, as the ceremony was planned months ago, and that he is not planning any similar events in the near future. His brother, former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush (R), has been supporting immigration reform in a book and public speaking tour.