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GOP culture war threatens immigration reform

It was just a couple of months ago when the Republican National Committee launched a multifaceted rebranding campaign, which included a rhetorical (if not a
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

It was just a couple of months ago when the Republican National Committee launched a multifaceted rebranding campaign, which included a rhetorical (if not a substantive) shift on culture-war issues. Reince Priebus said he wants to "welcome" gay-rights supporters. The party will adhere to its platform, the RNC chair added, "but it doesn't mean that we divide and subtract people from our party.... I don't believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics."

Less than two months later, Republican opposition to gay rights is so strong, it threatens the future of immigration reform.

The Senate Gang of Eight, which crafted the immigration legislation, pledged to fight off "poison pill" amendments that would derail the bill. But one controversial proposal has already divided the group.An amendment sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would allow U.S. citizens in long-term same-sex relationships to sponsor foreign partners for green cards.... Republican members of the Gang of Eight have stated bluntly to their Democratic partners that this will sink the bill if adopted during the committee's deliberations.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a "gang" member, told The Hill, "If that's in the bill, that will kill the bill. This bill has got to get broad support to have a chance in the House, and with that provision it will not have broad support. A lot of the coalitions that are behind it will go away, and so I think that's pretty much understood."

Scuttlebutt on Capitol Hill suggests Democrats will have no choice but to cave on this, and perhaps renew the fight in the next Congress. They want comprehensive immigration reform too much, and if pushing this gay-rights provision threatens the entire initiative, they'll have to back down.

But I'm not sure if Democrats fully appreciate the extent to which they have the upper hand. Try to imagine Republicans spending the next year and a half arguing, "We had no choice but to kill immigration reform -- because we really don't like gay people."

How would that affect the party's rebranding efforts? More to the point, how would that sound going into the 2014 midterms?

What's more, let's also not forget the substantive merit of Leahy's ideas.

Among Leahy's amendments is one that would include the Uniting American Families Act -- a bill that would create a new category of "permanent partners" to enable a U.S. citizen in a same-sex couple to sponsor a foreign partner -- in the larger immigration reform legislation. This amendment had been discussed and was expected to be filed.A second amendment, according to a news release from Leahy's office, "provides equal protection to lawfully married bi-national same sex couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law." The provision asserts that a person would be considered a married spouse under the Immigration and Nationality Act if the marriage "is valid in the state in which the marriage was entered into" or, if "entered into outside of any state," was valid where entered into.

As Greg Sargent noted yesterday, "This last move is very clever, because it throws the 'federalist' argument back at conservatives." As one gay-rights advocate told Buzzfeed, "this is basically meant to ferret out the Republicans" who "believe in a federalism concept."

Markup on immigration reform is slated to get underway in earnest today, and the amendments are worth watching closely. Democrats will have plenty of proposed improvements, including Leahy's, the point of which is to strengthen the core bill.

Republicans, meanwhile, will push several hundred amendments, which are intended to kill the legislation. At least count, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had unveiled 77 amendments alone, described by Adam Serwer yesterday as "some hardcore trolling."

As for the merit (or lack thereof) of the proposed Republican amendments, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee put together a list of some of the more offensive measures being pushed by GOP senators. Pay particular attention to Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) amendment to strip the pathway to citizenship from the legislation.