In an effort to reshape the debate over immigration reform, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus harshly criticized Mitt Romney’s self-deportation comments from the 2012 GOP primary while speaking to reporters on Thursday.
Republican leaders have long feared the current dialogue could doom the party with Latino voters in a repeat of the 2007 reform effort, which was shut down by a revolt by the GOP base.
“Using the word ‘self-deportation’ — it’s a horrific comment to make,” Priebus said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with our party. When someone makes those comments, obviously, it hurts us.”
“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” Romney said during the Florida debate held shortly after he lost the South Carolina primary to Newt Gingrich. “And so we’re not going to round people up.”
Priebus defended the progress his party has made with Latino voters since the release of the so-called GOP autopsy. He also ripped comments by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who has continually offered comments offensive to Latino voters followed by stern defenses of those comments.
“Well, of course, it’s hurtful,” Priebus said, in reference to King’s comment that for every undocumented valedictorian there were hundreds of drug smugglers with calves the size of cantaloupes. “Of course, it hurts. … Just, not good.”
King is the public face of the war against reform, and he insists he’s speaking for many members who don’t want to come forward, a claim that makes sense as House Republicans overwhelmingly supported his recent bill to deport undocumented young people.
The congressman recently said that a “spell” has been cast over his party on the issue of immigration, which The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent sees as a positive sign for the immigration reform debate.
The Senate passed immigration reform in the spring with more than two-thirds supporting the bill. The House GOP has refused to consider the Senate’s plan and is weighing how to proceed with reform in a way that can get the support of a majority of the Republican caucus, which is Speaker John Boehner’s stated standard for bringing any legislation to the floor.
There has been relatively little backlash from the Republican base about reform over the August recess, meanwhile, several House Republicans — including Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Aaron Schock (R-IL) and Dan Webster (R-FL) — have made positive statements for reform that include a “path to citizenship,” which is a key demand of many reform advocates.
Passing immigration reform was the one specific policy recommendation in Priebus’ autopsy. Many of the GOP’s most prominent donors, including Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers, want reform. However, most House Republicans — who primarily come from safe, white districts — don’t seem to be feeling the pressure.
By calling out comments of his fellow Republicans, Priebus may not be able to make reform happen. But he’s hoping to keep it from getting ugly — or, at least, uglier.
CORRECTION: Originally this post said that Priebus referred to Mitt Romney’s comments as “racist.” Business Insider updated the quote, replacing “it’s racist” with “it hurts us.”
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