John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The battle over immigration reform has highlighted a larger question that’s at the core of Washington dysfunction right now: Is there any way of making individual House Republicans pay a political price for the party’s refusal to embrace solutions to pressing problems that are supported by the national electorate?

The Service Employees International Union is launching a new ad campaign in the districts of seven House Republicans — backed by a $500,000 buy — that may help answer this question.

The key to the ads — which pressure Republicans to support immigration reform — is that they frame the issue as a referendum on whether House Republicans are still capable of governing. The ads link inaction on immigration to the House GOP’s recent government shutdown — in which the GOP let ideologically driven Tea Party destructiveness hijack the party’s agenda, badly damaging the party’s brand. Here’s the version hitting GOP Rep. John Kline of Minnesota:

All of this comes as pressure on Republicans by unions and other advocates is intensifying, as Ed O’Keefe reports in a good piece. GOP Senator Jeff Flake says: “There seems to be new life in the House on this.”

The SEIU will also run similar ads in the districts of GOP Reps. Gary Miller, Joe Heck, Mike Coffman, Rodney Davis, David Joyce, Michael Grimm, and Speaker John Boehner. Miller, Heck, Coffman and Grimm are obvious targets because their districts have high concentrations of Latinos. But in the case of Davis, Joyce and Kline, the gamble is that failure to act on immigration can be made a liability even though their districts don’t have lots of Latinos — by tagging them as unwilling to solve the country’s problems.

“As a result of Republican extremism, most Americans are skeptical that the House majority can get anything positive done,” said SEIU director of government relations Peter Colavito, who pointed to SEIU-commissioned polling that purports to show embracing reform can boost GOPers made vulnerable by the shutdown. “Immigration might be the only issue this session where reasonable Republicans can legislate and get right with mainstream voters.”

The question is whether Republicans actually want to “legislate and get right with mainstream voters.” That isn’t meant as snark. That’s really the crux of the issue here. A recent Post poll found that post-shutdown, only 20 percent of Americans, including lower percentages of moderates and independents, think the GOP is “interested in doing what’s right for the country.” Immigration is one of the few remaining issues where Republicans can prove otherwise.

But, because their House majority is supposedly invulnerable, with GOP lawmakers insulated from broader national opinion, GOP leaders may decide the party doesn’t need to prove it can govern, or fix its image with the mainstream, or repair relations with Latinos. They may decide the risks of alienating the base by embracing immigration reform with 2014 looming outweigh whatever they’d gain, and that fixing those broader problems can wait another year, or two, or even longer. Time will tell.


* GOP LEADERS ALARMED BY VIRGINIA LOSS: The New York Times has a big piece digging into the fierce internal debate among “alarmed” Republican leaders over the folly of nominating extremists like Ken Cuccinelli, which intensified after his loss, and over what steps the GOP can take to prevent this from happening in the future:

The push comes as the national Republican Party is grappling with vexing divisions over its identity and image, and mainstream leaders complain that more ideologically-driven conservatives are damaging the party with tactics like the government shutdown.

This is what’s really going on behind the laughable public spin from some GOP operatives that the closeness of the race proves Dems are in deep trouble in 2014.

* WHAT IF CUCCINELLI’S STANCE ON OBAMACARE WAS LIABILITY? It is a possibility that must never be acknowledged, but Bloomberg News takes the drastic step of reporting on what Democrats who won the Virginia race actually think:

Geoff Garin, McAuliffe’s lead polling expert, said in the closing days of the race that Cuccinelli’s focus on the health-care measure had “actually been counterproductive,” even with voters who disapproved of the law. It solidified their view that he was an ideological candidate with a national agenda that had nothing to do with Virginia, said Garin.

Garin expounded on this idea in his interview with me. For some reason, the press corps is giving far more credence to the losing side’s interpretation of the outcome.

* THE COUNTRY SHIFTS TO THE LEFT: E.J. Dionne has a nice column taking stock of the victories by McAuliffe in Virginia, and Bill de Blasio in New York. As Dionne notes:

de Blasio built the day’s second landslide on another sort of liberalism, a populist assault on rising inequality. In a victory speech that will be read as a manifesto for a new progressivism, de Blasio declared that inequality “is the defining challenge of our time.”

Meanwhile, McAuliffe won despite embracing liberal positions on social issues once warily regarded by Democrats in states like Virginia, and despite campaigning aggressively on  the Medicaid expansion, which makes the pundit suggestions that the outcome was bad news for Obamacare all the more mystifying.

* DEMS GIRD FOR MINIMUM WAGE FIGHT: The Hill reports that Democrats are preparing a push for Tom Harkin’s proposal to hike the minimum wage to $10, though it’s still unclear whether Obama will support that goal. The battle over the minimum wage — which is unfolding in states, too, though that’s mostly overlooked — is another key way the Democratic Party is taking a turn towards a more economically populist posture.

* VIRGINIA OUTCOME CARRIES WARNINGS FOR DEMS, TOO: The Post has a good overview of recriminations over Virginia that also delves into the warnings the results suggest for the Democratic Party over the long term:

McAuliffe’s victory masked the fact that although Democrats in Virginia can reliably depend on nonwhite and unmarried voters, they seem to lose among whites and married people almost without regard to their candidates’ ideology or personality. Democrats have lost the white vote by 20 or more percentage points in the last four Virginia votes for governor or president, according to survey data.

Given Cuccinelli’s margins among whites despite how conservative he is, that’s something Dems need to take seriously. This may be the price for the embrace of cultural politics and social issues that appeal to the new Dem “coalition of the ascendant.”

Also don’t miss Ed Kilgore, who details that the exits suggest we may be looking at an older, whiter electorate next year, rather than one like 2012.

* NO MORE “GOVERNING BY ANECDOTE”: Dana Milbank makes an important point here: While Obama is being fairly criticized for his dishonesty in suggesting everyone will keep coverage they like, Republicans are succumbing to a similar form of dissembling:

Suppose the worst forecast proves to be true, and 12 million people cannot renew their coverage and must  find new policies on the exchanges. In a country of 317 million people, that group would still be dwarfed by the number of people now able to get health insurance for the first time — and by the overwhelming majority of Americans who are largely unaffected by Obamacare.

This is the tradeoff at the heart of the law that many Republicans simply refuse to acknowledge. Also see Matt Miller’s excellent piece detailing the way the law’s critics just won’t even engage on the core policy challenge of covering tens of millions of uninsured.

* TIME TO REVISIT FILIBUSTER REFORM: Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein says that if GOP obstructionism of Obama’s nominations for the federal housing agency and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals continues, Dems have no choice:

When Harry Reid and McConnell reached a deal on filibusters in January, it was clear that a key component of that deal was that Republicans in the Senate would give due deference to a newly reelected president in his executive nominations, and would only oppose judicial nominations for courts of appeals under “extraordinary circumstances,” which clearly means judges without clear qualifications or experience, or extreme ideologies….If the other two D.C. Circuit nominees are filibustered and blocked, I would support Harry Reid’s move to change the rules now.

Just as last time, Democrats don’t want to change the rules; they will only do so if the GOP refusal to let Obama fill vacancies forces them to.

* AND AN EERIE GOP SILENCE ON ENDA: Roll Call discovers something remarkable: No GOP Senators who are against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act have spoken out against it on the Senate floor. Too bad the House GOP doesn’t feel any particular pressure to evolve with the rest of the culture!

What else?