Before the vote tallies were complete in Virginia on Tuesday night, the very first comment from many pundits was the same: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning primary loss was the final nail in the coffin for comprehensive immigration reform.
But the assumptions were flawed. For one thing, plenty of pro-reform Republicans won big in their primary races in equally conservative areas. For another, Cantor didn’t support reform, he killed it – and bragged about that during his primary race. While we’re at it, most voters in Cantor’s Republican-friendly district actually support reform.
Given all of this, it’s hard to blame reform proponents for pushing back against the conventional wisdom and trying to keep hope alive.
President Barack Obama isn’t buying the narrative that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary shellacking is a death knell for immigration reform, and plans to personally press Speaker John A. Boehner to act.“Some of you saw that there was an interesting election yesterday,” he told donors at a fundraiser this evening. “And it’s interesting to listen to the pundits and the analysts, and some of the conventional wisdom talks about, oh, the politics of immigration reform seem impossible now. I fundamentally reject that. And I will tell the Speaker of the House that he needs to reject that,” Obama said.
The president has a point. Sure, by most measures, House Republicans had effectively already killed the popular, bipartisan immigration plan in this Congress. But there’s no reason to think Cantor’s primary loss left reform more dead.
Indeed, as important as the Majority Leader’s defeat was, specifically on the issue of immigration, not that much has changed.
The questions and challenges facing Republicans are the same this week as they were last week:
* Does the GOP intend to become a smaller, less-diverse party, deliberately pushing away the nation’s fastest-growing constituency?
* Will Republicans ignore the broken immigration system indefinitely, regardless of the policy consequences?
* How eager is the GOP to solidify its reputation as the party of Steve King and Ted Cruz?
There’s no denying the fact that Cantor’s loss has shaken up Washington on a variety of levels, but what hasn’t changed is the fact that there’s a bipartisan reform plan on the table that enjoys support from a bipartisan Senate majority, the White House, the Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, law enforcement, leaders from throughout the religious community, and deficit hawks.
“Yeah, but Cantor lost his primary,” House Republicans say. That’s true, but Cantor helped kill the bill.
It’s not just Democrats who remain committed to the reform agenda; private-sector leaders haven’t given up, either: “A group of business leaders, including the CEOs of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, sent an open letter to Congress Tuesday urging lawmakers to take action to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.”
Cantor’s primary defeat has become a convenient excuse for more inaction, but it’s not a good excuse.