Immigration Reform in a Republican-Controlled Senate, Pt. 6

Republican leaders have, understandably, not gone very far in publicly discussing their possible agenda if they win control of both the House and the Senate in the November elections. One thing is clear so far, however, and that is that immigration reform is not at the top of their list.

This is, in some ways, understandable. Tax and entitlement reform are large, important issues for Republican supporters, as is substantial modification or replacement of the president’s heath care law.

Next to these three large, party-defining issues, immigration seems like a second tier concern. Yet, it isn’t and shouldn’t be considered that way. If handled correctly, which means with both eyes on the public interest, it has the potential to help transform the Republican brand as a party not only concerned with finances and personal freedom of choice with doctors and health insurance, but with the essential nature of America itself.

It would be a political miscalculation of the first magnitude therefore, for the GOP not to develop its own unique position and narrative on immigration reform rather than always swimming in the undertow of the Democratic immigration narrative. The failure to do so would make the party essentially defenseless against an ongoing and determined Democratic effort to squeeze, marginalize, and smear Republicans as “anti-immigrant” and worse for years to come.

Immigration is an issue that resonates very strongly with the Republican base of ordinary Americans. This should be an important consideration given poll headlines like “59% of GOP Voters Say Republicans in Congress Out of Touch with Party’s Base”.

More importantly, it is the right thing to do for the country.

However, this means that reform-minded Republicans will have to win over their more establishment colleagues who voted in favor of the 2013 Democratic immigration bill.

It won’t be easy, but there are reasons to think such efforts can be successful.

There are likely to be 13 Republican senators in the new Senate who voted for the 2013 Democratic bill. The nine regular Republicans are: Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), and Orrin Hatch (Utah).

In addition, four Republican senators were “Gang of Eight” sponsors of the Democratic bill. They were Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Marco Rubio (Fla.).

One of the sponsors, Marco Rubio, says he has recanted his support for the Democrat’s bill, but still supports immigration reform, and can probably be counted on to support a more modest and fair reform agreement that covers real enforcement measures first followed by limited legalization, and perhaps a recasting of the family reunification, education, and skills balance in our immigration stream.

What of the other 12 Republicans who voted for the 2013 Democratic bill? Any Republican bill that comes out of the Senate is likely to be much smaller and more focused than the 2013 Democratic bill. It would benefit, it is hoped, by not trying to dispense special incentives given out behind closed doors for every interested group that made it into the bargaining room, as was the case for the 2013 Democratic bill.

Would these 12 Republican senators support a more limited, focused bill of the kind described above?


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