Discuss as:

Immigration and the blame game


During to the 2012 presidential campaign, Republicans made this argument to Latino voters when talking about immigration reform: It was President Obama’s fault why any reform wasn’t signed into law during the president’s first term.

"I think one of the reasons Candidate Obama got so much support from the Hispanic community in the [2008] election is that he said in his first year, among his highest priorities would be to fix the immigration system," Mitt Romney said at a Univision-sponsored town hall in Sept. 2012. "But he never even filed a bill. He never tried to fix the immigration system."

The line of attack might have been somewhat unfair -- after all, Republicans in Congress who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform backed away, even when it came to the more limited DREAM Act. And the president did take executive action to no longer deport qualified young illegal immigrants.

Still, the argument was something the GOP could wield to Latino voters (who still broke to Obama by a 71 percent-to-27 percent margin in 2012).

But after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform legislation by a 13-to-5 vote, and now as the bill heads to the Senate floor with prospects for passage likely, Republicans might not be able to use that argument any longer.

If the legislation goes down to defeat, Republicans would get the lion’s share -- if not all -- of the blame.

And that reality could provide the GOP with an additional incentive to help pass immigration reform, especially when the legislative action moves to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

"The onus is on the Republicans,” says Frank Sharry, a liberal-leaning immigration reform advocate. “If reform tanks, Republicans can try all sorts of excuses -- the president didn’t want to upset the unions, the Democrats demanded too much, the bill was too big and wouldn’t have worked -- but these won’t work outside the conservative media bubble."   

Indeed, Democrats have already swallowed omitting an amendment that would have granted immigration rights to gay and lesbian couples. Organized labor and big business are in agreement on the legislation. And Obama has largely remained on the sidelines to give Congress more breathing room to negotiate.

A Senate Republican aide whose boss supports immigration reform agrees that Republicans would be blamed for defeat of the immigration legislation.

"It would have negative ramifications for the party, absolutely.”

Yet the GOP aide adds that if the Senate “Gang of Eight” legislation gets as many as 70 Senate votes, it would force House Republicans to take up legislation -- even if it’s not supported by a majority of the caucus.

"The goal here with this effort is to get upward of 70 votes,” the aide said. “It would put pressure on them to engage and not find a reason to say no."

That said, getting 70 votes isn’t sure thing; it would require ensuring that the legislation attracts enough Senate Republicans without losing Democratic votes.

Perhaps more importantly, conservative opponents see no political upside to achieving immigration reform. Their argument: While they might get blamed for the legislation’s defeat, they would get little benefit from the bill’s passage.

"There is no evidence to support this idea that Republicans will pick up a lot of votes if we give amnesty to 11 million folks," Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) recently said, according to Reuters.

There’s also the possibility these members could receive conservative backlash from their constituents if they support the legislation.

And that’s the challenge for House Speaker John Boehner. What’s a bigger concern for him -- upsetting his conservative members or the party potentially getting blamed for the legislation’s defeat?

For now, he says the House “will work its will.”

“We’re not going to be stampeded by the White House or stampeded by the president,” Boehner told reporters last week. “The Senate is working its will, a lot of good work that’s gone on over there, but the House — the House will work its will.”