It’s been a few weeks since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) effectively pulled the plug on immigration reform. When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) unveiled his plans for the chamber’s near future, immigration was noticeable in its absence.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce unveiled a joint letter from 636 American businesses this afternoon, urging Republican leaders to act on immigration, but there’s no reason to believe the House GOP will budge an inch in response to appeals from anyone.
But to understand why reform is struggling, one must look past the rhetoric. House Republicans don’t oppose immigration legislation because of “trust issues” with President Obama; they oppose immigration legislation because they’re simply against the underlying idea.
While Speaker John A. Boehner says his conference “by and large” backs the immigration outline the leadership presented in January at the GOP retreat, a poll of every House Republican conducted by CQ Roll Call found only 19 who would confirm their support.
We surveyed Republican lawmakers’ offices and combed through member statements to see if they supported the immigration principles, which include a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants and a pathway to citizenship for children brought here illegally.
There are currently 232 Republicans currently serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to Roll Call’s tally, only 19 – just 8% of the total – are prepared to say on the record that they support their own party’s published principles on immigration reform.
In fairness, there are very likely some House Republicans who privately endorse the principles Boehner outlined on Jan. 31, but who are reluctant to state their position on the record.
But the fact remains that when the Speaker’s office presented his conference’s immigration priorities, he was once again playing the role of a leader with no followers.
Remember, Roll Call didn’t ask whether these House Republicans would consider the bipartisan Senate bill. It also didn’t ask whether they’re on board with the Obama administration enforcing the law. This was a more basic question: do House GOP members back their own leadership’s stated principles on immigration reform?
And as of yesterday, only 8% do.
This is important not just to appreciate the likelihood of legislative success, but also to understand who’s ultimately responsible if/when the legislation dies in this Congress.
Because Republicans are already struggling with Latino voters, and because the House GOP majority has zero legislative accomplishments since taking over the majority in 2011, they’re a little sensitive on the issue – and would like very much to avoid the blame for the bill’s demise.
But Democrats have made every possible concession and agreed to nearly every demand. When Boehner said House Republicans would kill the bill because they don’t trust President Obama to endorse federal law, Senate Democrats were even prepared to delay implementation until 2017.
The point, in other words, is that there can be no real debate as to who deserves the blame. House Republicans oppose immigration reform, so they’re going to let immigration reform wither and die. When GOP House members oppose their own leadership’s policy, there is no other conclusion to draw.