Republican Strategist Examines Immigration Reform’s Chances

BY Kwame Holman  June 24, 2013 at 2:49 PM EST


Photo by Karen Bleier/ AFP/ Getty Images.

As the Senate floor buzzed Thursday afternoon over the Republican-sponsored border security amendment aimed at expanding the GOP vote for immigration reform, veteran GOP strategist Whit Ayres wanted to know if the deal had been well-received by Democrats.

I spoke with Ayres by phone in the mid-afternoon, and filled him in that the GOP-written compromise, indeed, had Democratic support.

“Interesting. That will make it the toughest border security measure ever passed by the U.S. Congress,” Ayres said from his Capitol Hill office. “I mean, if that passes, I can see the bill getting north of 70 votes.”

Senate Democrats generally favor the immigration bill which would allow some 11 million undocumented people to earn citizenship. Republicans are less supportive, citing the need for a more secure southern border as the priority.

Ayres long has noted that the GOP lost Latino voters three to one to President Barack Obama in last year’s election and must support immigration reform to break out from that deficit among the fastest growing group in the nation. Reform would benefit the largely Hispanic undocumented community.

In the Senate, the 70 votes Ayres envisions would mean about 35 percent of Republicans voted for the immigration bill. He and other advocates say that would send a strong message to House Republicans that they should vote yes later this year.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says he wants at least half of his members in the House majority to support any immigration bill he brings up for a vote.  Some House Republicans demand that be the standard and one said recently Boehner will lose his speakership if he doesn’t adhere to it.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met Wednesday with Boehner about the immigration bill. Afterward, leading advocate Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., said the speaker reiterated the “majority of the majority” stance.

“I left that meeting understanding that there needs to be a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats. And let me emphasize, a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats need to come together so that the will of the House of Representatives can be done,” Gutiérrez told The Hill newspaper.

Currently, there’s great doubt that House Republican support for immigration reform can reach 50 percent — far more than the expected vote in the Senate.

According to some analysts, most House Republicans have little incentive to support reform because they have very few Hispanic constituents in their Congressional districts and many in their largely white districts consider a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented an unacceptable amnesty.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., whose district is about 4 percent Hispanic, told Politico Thursday, “You certainly have people who want no amnesty, and that’s the end of the discussion. [But] for folks who are willing to look at immigration, I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us Republicans to make the case that this is good policy for everybody, not just good politics vis-à-vis the Hispanic community.”

Ayres acknowledged there’s a friction between the priorities of national Republicans concerned about the Hispanic vote in a presidential election and the political needs of individual House GOP members.

“Oh, sure. No question. That’s why there are a number of Republicans who need to be persuaded this will be good for the country on balance and your district on balance. They have to be persuaded of that and should be persuaded of that and not all of them will be. The question is whether there will be enough,” Ayres said.

He was not willing to predict success this year for immigration reform.

“I think it’s very much up in the air at this point. I’m hopeful that significant immigration reform along these lines will pass. But I think the outcome is very much hanging in the balance,” he said.

He also said failing to pass the bill this year is not the end of the road: ”I don’t think all hope ends by any means. But I think it’ll be easier to get it done this year than next.”