There’s been no shortage of provocative political rhetoric on immigration policy, but one quote yesterday stood out for me. In context, the comment came from a congressman opposed to President Obama’s likely executive actions.
“He will make the issue absolutely toxic for a decade,” Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., said Thursday.
Norm Ornstein joked in response, “From the lovefest it’s been for the past decade.”
It’s an important point. I’ve seen some suggestions in recent years that congressional Republicans refuse to consider immigration reform – in any form – because they’re reflexively opposed to giving Obama a “win.” If GOP lawmakers simply say no to everything, including ideas they support, the president will have fewer accomplishments, the public will grow angrier by Washington dysfunction, and maybe Republicans will benefit.
And while there may be something to this, I don’t think the argument fully captures a more basic truth: Republicans really don’t like immigration reform.
It’s often overlooked, but let’s not forget that in George W. Bush’s second term, there was a bipartisan reform plan considered in Congress, which wasn’t too different from the one approved by the Senate last year. The Republican White House was eager to sign the plan into law, but it failed – GOP lawmakers ignored their own party’s president and killed the legislation.
Two years later, John McCain ran for president on a platform that involved opposition to John McCain’s immigration bill.
Four years later, Mitt Romney embraced “self-deportation” as a serious policy idea – and he wasn’t the most anti-immigration candidate who ran in 2012.
In 2014, congressional Republicans made a right turn at “self-deportation” and embraced “Deport ‘em all” with great enthusiasm. The party now demands the deportation of Dream Act kids – the Dream Act used to be a bipartisan bill – and has positioned itself as the most aggressive anti-immigration party seen in recent American history.
It’s against this backdrop that Obama’s going to make the issue “toxic for a decade”? Not for those of us who remember the last decade.