“The Republican Party needs to throw in the towel on the immigration issue,” Fred Steeper, a GOP pollster who advised both Presidents Bush, recently told The New York Times‘ John Harwood.
Steeper is just one of many key Republican figures, including Karl Rove and Grover Norquist, who have asked their party to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, which was the one policy recommendation the Republican National Committee gave to the party in the now moldy and completely disregarded “autopsy” report.
Establishment Republicans know that they have to embrace reform because the prospect of their next nominee doing worse with Latinos than Mitt Romney — who did worse than John McCain, who did worse than George W. Bush — would mean almost no hope of winning the White House.
That’s why Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) risked his career to back reform.
But embracing reform comes at a huge cost. Republican districts are on average far more white and rural than Democratic districts and support for reform is such a hot-button issue that it alone could easily draw you a primary challenger.
That’s why Marco Rubio no longer backs his own bill.
The fact that Latinos likely won’t decide who controls the House in 2014 is probably the biggest hurdle to passing reform in 2013 — and it’s also why only three House Republicans publicly support immigration reform that resembles the bill that Rubio helped pass the Senate. But there are definitely some Republican members of the House who could be persuaded to help the GOP avoid becoming a national version of what it has become in California as a result of anti-immigrant policies — a larger third party.
“The base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country,” pollster Stan Greenberg recently wrote in an analysis of the Republican Party. Immigration inflames that fear. But unless the GOP conquers it, it will conquer them.
Here are five House Republicans who represent districts in swing states with strong Democratic Party infrastructure who would be wise to support comprehensive immigration reform, with a path to citizenship.
Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr
Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA)
Rep. Miller says he understands immigrants because he too immigrated — from Arkansas.
The congressman represents a district that’s in a state that leans Democratic and makes it very easy for Democratic-leaning voters to vote. His district went for President Obama by 19 percent but he was the rare Republican beneficiary of California’s new “jungle” primary — where the top two vote getters regardless of party end up in general.
As Miller doesn’t even have a great chance of making it out of his own primary in 2014, he could do his party a favor and support comprehensive reform.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO)
Rep. Coffman’s seat is a pure toss-up, according to the Rothenberg Report.
But Politico believes his prospects are more dire:
Coffman’s new district is centered in Aurora, which in recent years has seen an infusion of Hispanics who have migrated to the Denver suburbs in search of quality schools and housing. Under Colorado’s map, Hispanics make up a little more than 20 percent of the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. Coffman’s old district, which was centered in the more conservative Douglas County, was about 8 percent Hispanic.
Those demographic realities have made Coffman — one of only 16 Republicans residing in a district that Obama won — a marked man.
Already facing a strong opponent in former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, Coffman has supported immigration reform, without a path to citizenship — a key requirement for many reformers. He would be a prime example of a Republican who could end up supporting a bill without a path to citizenship that goes to a conference committee that could add the path back after the deadline for primary challengers to file passes next year.
Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV)
Rep. Heck hasn’t come out in support of the Senate’s bill but he has attacked his own party for not taking reform more seriously.
“It’s extremely frustrating and very disappointing to hear reports that the House does not plan on voting on immigration reform legislation this year,” Heck said. “This is yet another example of the leadership vacuum in Washington that rightly has so many people frustrated with this dysfunctional Congress.”
The congressman will rely on minority support to be re-elected and has already been targeted by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in Spanish-language ads, after he backed an amendment by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) that would make it easier to deport the young undocumented immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act who have been granted semi-legal status by President Obama.
Rep. Michael Grimm (D-NY)
This summer, before the so-called Gang of Eight/Seven negotiations collapsed, Rep. Grimm told an immigration activist, “We’re getting closer” to doing a deal on reform. That, of course, turned out not to be true.
The freshman congressman represents Brooklyn and may not be looking for much attention, after garnering headlines for disappearing into the bathroom of a local bar for 17 minutes with a female friend.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)
There’s almost no chance Speaker Boehner will lose his House seat. But if Republicans keep the House, Boehner again will be leading a divided caucus possibly even more enraged by the primary battles brewing between the establishment and the Tea Party. The Speaker almost suffered a coup earlier this year after a fiscal cliff bill that passed without the support of most Republicans. Since then he’s broken the “rule” that he should not bring a bill to the floor without the majority of the majority several times, including to pass aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, for the Violence Against Women Act, and to reopen the government after the 16-day shutdown.
Boehner is a master of one thing: keeping his job.
Would he risk it to pass a bill that will help the Republican Party improve its image with everyone but its base?
Not likely. But he should consider it. I’m sure the lobbying firm that will eventually make the ex-Speaker a very rich man would appreciate a viable Republican Party.
AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan