TOPICS > Politics

Immigration Fallout: A White House Win?

June 19, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
President Obama's decision last week to help undocumented youths obtain work visas has rippled through the presidential campaigns. Gwen Ifill and Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News discuss the political fallout, who the new policy affects and what it means for the Latino vote.
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GWEN IFILL: Fallout continued today in the wake of President Obama’s immigration decision.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix.

GWEN IFILL: President Obama’s decision to shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation stirred political consternation, but is winning popular support.

A new Bloomberg News poll finds 64 percent of likely voters agree with the policy; 30 percent said they disagree. Over the weekend on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney took issue with the executive process used to implement the new approach, but not with the policy itself.

BOB SCHIEFFER, “Face the Nation”: Would you leave this in place while you worked out a long-term solution or would you just repeal it?

MITT ROMNEY (R): We will look at that setting as we reach that.

But my anticipation is I would come into office and say we need to get this done on a long-term basis, not this kind of a stopgap measure.

GWEN IFILL: Romney has said he would include veterans in his long-term plan. The president, he said, is merely playing election-year politics. Romney spoke today on a FOX radio talk show.

MITT ROMNEY: Oh, I believe that the reason this came out was the president’s trying to shore up his base with Latino voters. And he’s also trying to change the subject from his miserable speech last — gaffe that the private economy is — gaffe that the private economy is doing fine and from the failure of his economic policies to get this economy going again.

GWEN IFILL: A recent Gallup survey shows the president enjoys a 45-point advantage over Romney among Hispanic voters.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who had been the most prominent Republican working on an alternative to what has been dubbed the DREAM Act, told ABC News the president’s action derailed his plan.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-Fla.: I have never gotten a call from a single person at the White House about it. If they really wanted to work on a solution, why wouldn’t someone call me?

GWEN IFILL: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s up to the party nominee to decide how to respond to a new policy that applies to immigrants younger than 30 brought into the U.S. before the age of 16.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: I think we’re going to wait until we hear what Gov. Romney has to say on this issue. There may be others behind me who want to address it, but my view is, he is the leader of our party from now until November, and we hope beyond. And we’re going to wait and see what he has to say about it and be happy to respond to that at that point.

GWEN IFILL: But Democrats say Republicans have never been serious about compromise.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: Every time Democrats propose bipartisan legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for children brought here illegally through no fault of their own, Republicans have found an excuse to oppose our practical reform.

GWEN IFILL: The issue is likely to come up again later this week when both candidates travel to Orlando to address a conference of Latino elected officials.

For more on the political fallout and public perception of the immigration decision, we are joined by Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News.

Let’s talk about that poll, Lisa. It’s really interesting to me. It felt a little bit like the White House knew they had the public on their side.

LISA LERER, Bloomberg News: Well, it certainly does seem like the White House has won this round at least. Our polls showed — our poll was the first in the field about this decision and it showed that two out of three voters agreed with the president’s policy. And a similar margin of independents, two out of three, agreed with it as well.

And independents, of course, are that he critical coveted group in presidential elections. So it definitely looks at least for now like a win for the White House.

GWEN IFILL: If this was such a popular move, then why has it been so controversial?

LISA LERER: Well, it’s popular, but it’s also really, really partisan.

Our poll shows that while Democrats love the policy, more than 85 percent said they agreed with it, a majority of Republicans disagreed with it. And that — when things are that partisan, particularly in this environment, this very polarized political environment, particularly on Capitol Hill, as we have seen again and again, it’s really hard to get things passed.

GWEN IFILL: Just tracking Republican reaction to the president’s move — the president spoke on Friday. We just saw a little bit of Mitt Romney kind of not quite answering the question on Sunday, and now today Mitch McConnell saying in your court, nominee Romney.

Why are Republicans having such a difficult time deciding what — did they just get trumped on this?

LISA LERER: Well, part of the White House’s political plan with this announcement and doing it at this time, which it seems like they succeeded at, is to put Republicans in a political vice, trapping them between their base, which, as I said, doesn’t like the plan — our polling showed that they don’t like it — and between Hispanics, who are a really, really important swing vote — who are going to be a really important swing vote in this election.

So it’s hard for them, for Romney and other Republican leaders, who really have to calibrate their response. They don’t want to upset their base, because they need to come out in force to win this election. But they also don’t want to alienate Hispanic voters, who long term they really need to make inroads with that group, by saying something negative.

GWEN IFILL: But Republicans have said all along that Latino voters are not only concerned about immigration, that they have — they’re also concerned about the economy. Is that basically their response to this kind of argument?

LISA LERER: Well, that’s been their message all along.

When Romney runs ads — his campaign has spent a lot of time targeting Hispanic voters, they have run ads, he’s met with groups, he’s spoken to Hispanic voters directly on the campaign trail. And it’s always an economic message. And they say that that’s what Hispanic voters care the most about.

But on immigration, things get challenging for them. There’s a very strong and very vocal wing of the Republican Party that tends to get inflamed when this topic comes up. Steve King recently compared immigrants to dogs.

GWEN IFILL: Congressman from Iowa.

LISA LERER: Congressman from Iowa, of course.

And that’s the kind of thing that doesn’t play well with Hispanic voters. Several voters I talked to or participated in our poll told me that they saw the Republican Party as intolerant. So Romney and his campaign are hoping that by focusing on the economy, they can keep their party sort of focused and keep these other extraneous and often poorly received comments out of the dialogue.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s look at the flip side of this, because until this happened, the president was beginning to run into some headwinds with Latino supporters and activists because of the White House’s view on deportations. Does this mute that unhappiness?

LISA LERER: Well, there was never a question over whether the president would win Latino voters.

It was always clear. And Republicans when they were speaking candidly would say, listen, we know we’re not going to win Latino voters. Their goal is to cut — the Republicans’ goal is to cut into the president’s edge with that group. And, of course, the Obama campaign wants to pump up turnout among Latinos as much as possible.

While clearly a lot of Latino voters want more, they want a long-term solution, they want a comprehensive immigration policy, this could help invigorate some particularly younger voters and get them to the polls, which is really what the Obama campaign wants.

GWEN IFILL: But I wonder as — between now and November whether an action like this doesn’t freeze that whole debate about comprehensive reform or whether it was frozen anyway.

LISA LERER: Well, it absolutely freezes it.

Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida was working on a longer-term plan, and he’s said recently — yesterday, I believe — that he dropped that plan. But frankly I think it was frozen anyhow. The economic problems facing the country are so intense and so dominate the political discourse that I have had multiple people on the Hill tell me that nothing was going to happen on this, and nothing is going to happen regardless of the election outcome in the next couple months after November.

GWEN IFILL: Yet, it’s not very hard to go travel around the country to these swing states where Latino voters live and discover there’s a lot of Spanish-language advertising, there’s a lot of targeting of these voters.

Do the Democrats or Republicans have a strategy to win those voters over that goes beyond this discussion about immigration?

LISA LERER: Well, this is not only a short-term gain in terms of this election for the party. They’re really trying to look at the long haul.

Latino voters made up 2 percent of the voting population in 1992. They’re expected to be close to 9 percent this election and that share is only growing. So both parties are really trying hard to find ways to get this group in their corner for the long term.

It’s also — it’s a growing group, and it’s also a relatively young population group, so they want to get these people in on their side and get them early. It’s not clear that they found the secret way to do that. And I think until they deal with the issues that Latinos care about, like immigration, it’s unclear whether they will solidify that voting bloc.

GWEN IFILL: And it bears repeating, this plan that the president put forward last week isn’t about citizenship. It’s not about actually even a permanent solution, which is the argument that Mitt Romney’s been making.

LISA LERER: But what it is about is kids, right? And that was part of the political calculation for the White House here. This is — this deals with illegal immigrants who came when they were young, who are under age 30, who have clean criminal records, who are in the military or in school.

It doesn’t look good for Republicans to come out against kids. Kids, it’s like, who doesn’t like kids? And that was part of the White House’s plan here was to put — to hopefully position Republicans in such a way that it’s a Republican against an upstanding high school senior, and that’s not a good place for the Republicans to be.

GWEN IFILL: As you said, it’s a vice.

Lisa Lerer from Bloomberg news, thanks so much.

LISA LERER: Thank you.