Think immigration reform is passing Congress anytime soon? Think again. While the Senate may approve the bill, immigration reform faces little chance of passage in the House. Republicans might say that the Senate bill is too loose on border control, or they might object to amnesty. But the real reason immigration will fail is that House Republicans, like any other politicians, are self-protecting, and supporting immigration is political poison for many House Republicans.
Because of the way many House races are currently set up – safe seats with competitive primaries – Republicans frequently face their biggest challenge from the far right, and showing ideological weakness leaves them vulnerable. House Republicans have displayed their consciousness of this fact. “While most Senators aren’t up for election next year, every member of the House will be on the ballot,” commented Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) when asked about the bill in the Senate. Rep. Cole may be right to be skeptical about the wiliness of primary voters to look favorably on immigration reform. A recent poll that shows that almost half of Republicans would be less likely to vote for their representative if he or she voted for the immigration bill.
But in protecting their own seats in the House, Republicans do an incredible disservice to their party as a whole and damage their chances of influencing public policy in the years to come. The stark reality is that while individual records matter in House primaries, when it comes to elections for the Senate and the Presidency, which are much more general, the image of the Party as a whole is more important to voters. Here’s another reality; the groups that the Republican Party desperately needs support from to control the Senate and the Presidency, namely moderates and Hispanics, broadly support immigration reform. If House Republicans put the final nail in the coffin of immigration reform there’s a good chance they’ll foster an image that will hurt the GOP in Senate and Presidential elections, even if it helps them in the House.
Republican leaders shouldn’t be blamed entirely for this predicament; in fact some of them have been trying desperately to get their fellow Party members to realize supporting immigration reform is key to the Party’s survival. The self-effacing RNC report on the 2012 election, in addition to advocating Republican support for immigration reform, bluntly states that “Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test” and that “if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies”. But others, including Speaker John Boehner, have made it clear that they simply don’t care about national races. Republican aides told the New York Times that Boehner “has no intention of angering conservative voters and jeopardizing the House Republican majority in 2014 in the interest of courting Hispanic voters on behalf of a 2016 Republican presidential nominee who does not yet exist”.
House Republicans facing more conservative opponents have a right to be nervous about supporting immigration reform. But the idea that Republicans will lose the House to Democrats because they weren’t conservative enough on immigration is insane. If anything, immigration reform will help cement the 33 seat Republican lead in the House. What Republican representatives should really be asking is whether improving the chances of holding onto their own seats for two more years is worth risking the political impotence of their Party. Supporting immigration reform is quickly becoming a necessity for any Party that wants to control the Presidency, and possibly the Senate. By ignoring this fact House Republicans risk at best significantly hurting the chances of passing their agenda and at worst locking Washington in the cycle of political gridlock it’s trapped in today.