“We will not win another presidential election as Republicans,” he said, “unless we do something to fix the broken immigration system.”
He was interviewed the morning after the Senate, on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote, approved a comprehensive immigration bill. That measure now faces an uncertain future in the House, a reality that worries LaHood.
House Republicans, he said, should follow the lead of Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), the tea party favorite who helped broker the bipartisan legislation in the Senate. “I’m sure he’s taken a lot of heat and grief for this. His colleagues in the House should take a page out of his book,” he said. Otherwise, “this is going to be the death knell for Republicans winning national elections for decades.”
LaHood’s barbs about his party are part of his broader out-the-door message. He is dismayed by the breakdown of bipartisanship in Washington and alarmed by the lack of civility and resistance to compromise that now colors political debate.
To anyone who has watched LaHood’s Washington career as chief of staff to then-House Republican leader Robert Michel (Ill.), then as Michel’s successor in the Peoria district through seven terms in the House and more recently as a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, his message is no surprise. He is a moderate Republican in a conservative party and a maverick politician who never shied from speaking his mind.
LaHood was formed politically in a different era, when rivals both fought and cooperated. He looks to Michel and former Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen (Ill.), who once held the same House seat. Willingness to compromise, he said, remains fundamental to solving the country’s problems, no matter how polarized politics have become.
The political climate was changing as he came to Washington, with greater partisanship even then. When I asked him to name the biggest difference between the conditions when he arrived in Washington and today, he was blunt.
“What I believe it is,” he said, “is a small group, maybe 30, 40 in the House, who have come here to do nothing — and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve done nothing. They’ve accomplished nothing. . . .
They didn’t come here to vote for solutions. They came here to do nothing, and they stand in the way of the president and his agenda. But also I would say they stand in the way of getting a bipartisan immigration bill passed or a bipartisan farm bill passed.”
Many of those House Republicans would counter LaHood by saying that they came here to prevent the federal government from growing larger, spending more money and extending its regulatory reach into the lives and business of ordinary Americans. They would say they are doing exactly what they came to do.