With a year to go until the midterm elections, immigration reform advocates hoping to jump-start debate on Capitol Hill are planning to target a handful of Republican lawmakers most likely to suffer political consequences next year if Congress fails to act on immigration reform.
A campaign set to be announced Thursday will marry the financial and political power of the AFL-CIO and SEIU labor unions with smaller grass-roots immigrant advocacy groups, including America’s Voice, PICO National Network, Mi Familia Vota and CASA in Action, to target nine House GOP lawmakers who support establishing a way for eligible immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship.
The campaign will target Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), David Valadao (R-Calif.), Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Joe Heck (R-Nev.). They represent districts with sizable Latino voting populations where President Obama won or performed well last year. They also have publicly voiced support for revamping the nation’s immigration laws.
Organizers said the goal of the campaign is to pressure the lawmakers to match their public statements by lobbying colleagues and House Republican leaders to permit votes on a series of immigration bills introduced in recent months. If the nine lawmakers fail to convince their colleagues by the end of the year, the groups plan to devote more resources to defeating them in next year's elections and to expand their campaign.
"This is designed to tell Republicans that if you don't take action on reform, there will be people who will take action in districts where Republicans are vulnerable to mobilize Latino and immigrant voters to reward or punish a member of Congress," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a leading national immigration advocacy group.
"A Republican majority in the House depends on people in vulnerable districts winning," Sharry noted. "It just seems [House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)] and company are more worried about members being primaried by tea party challengers than their members in districts with growing Latino populations. This is designed to tell them, ‘Guess what -- you’d better worry.’ "
The House is unlikely to consider any immigration legislation before Congress passes another short-term spending plan in mid-January, according to top Republican aides. Even if debate ever begins, Boehner and his lieutenants have said they will not support a comprehensive Senate plan that would allow illegal immigrants to pursue citizenship over a 13-year period, saying they will consider a series of smaller-scale bills.
House lawmakers are on recess this week, but a visit to Capitol Hill last week by hundreds of conservative business and religious leaders helped persuade some GOP lawmakers to take another look at the issue, said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who cosponsored the Senate plan passed this summer.
"There seems to be new life in the House on this," he said Wednesday.
Flake served for 10 years in the House before ascending to the Senate in January and remains in close contact with House Republicans. He said there is growing interest in establishing ways for the children of undocumented immigrants and certain farm workers to more quickly gain U.S. citizenship, while establishing ways for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants to seek a permanent legal status.
"There’d be no special path created, but they would not be precluded from taking one of the paths that already exists," Flake said.
Flake said there's likely to be bipartisan support for the proposal, "because that’s the only way a deal can be had. I think there’s a good-faith effort underway on both sides of the aisle."
Congressional Democrats also remain hopeful that House Republicans will quickly take up the issue, possibly in December before another round of negotiations over a short-term spending bill in January.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who worked with Flake on the Senate deal, has held several telephone conversations on the subject with senior GOP lawmakers, according to aides.
“Certainly politically it would benefit us if [House Republicans] don’t pass any bill, and they can’t pass any bill without some Democratic votes. But the overwhelming view of Democrats is that we’d sacrifice that political advantage to get a bill that moves America’s immigration policy forward,” Schumer said Wednesday.
The campaign launching Thursday will include outreach to nearly 90,000 voters in the nine districts through door-to-door outreach and phone calls. Additionally, the AFL-CIO announced plans Tuesday to spend more than $1 million on a bilingual television ad campaign in Bakersfield, Calif., Denver, Atlanta and Orlando and in the Washington, D.C. market. The SEIU plans to announce a similar ad campaign Thursday, according to people familiar with the plans.
Of the lawmakers targeted, Denham and Valadao have endorsed a comprehensive immigration bill authored by House Democrats that merges elements of the bipartisan Senate immigration plan passed over the summer with a bipartisan border security plan passed unanimously by a House committee in May. Denham said last week that he met with a good reception when he discussed the bill with colleagues during their weekly caucus-wide meeting.
Several of the other targeted Republicans reiterated their support for immigration reform this week but said they're still reviewing the various proposals.
Aides to Heck said the congressman believes the House should act "in a timely manner." Miller said in a statement that he plans to "closely examine the merits and consequences of any proposal." Coffman said he is eager to work on the issue, "but that is appearing less likely given the limited time that is left on the calendar."
Jackie Kucinich and David Nakamura contributed to this report.