When the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, 68-32, the successful vote set off loud rounds of self-congratulatory backslapping among the Gang of 8, the Hispanic lobby, the Chamber of Commerce and immigration lawyers. The White House, which had veto power over the bill, chimed in too.
Look more deeply into the vote, however, and some interesting facts emerge that should take the wind out of the victors’ sails, especially as S. 744 heads to the staunchly opposed House.
Since 2006, the Senate has cast 60 votes more or less for amnesty in all the bills put before it. This week’s vote gave no indication that Senate enthusiasm for a wide reaching amnesty is greater than it traditionally has been. Two of the Gang’s original goals failed: 1) to reach 70 total votes and 2) to get at least half of the Republicans to sign on. The first objective came up two short. As for the second, only 14 of 45 Republicans voted “yea,” a much lower share than in either 1986 during the disastrous Immigration Reform and Control Act or in 2006 for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act.
During the two months that the Gang wrote S.744 with plenty of help from immigration activists and since the two additional months since the bill dropped in mid-April, a relative calm has settled over previously panicked Republicans. After the November presidential election, President Obama‘s large Hispanic vote share paralyzed Republicans with fear and led them to irrationally conclude that they need greater Latino outreach. But reams of post-election analysis found that even if Mitt Romney had won 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, he still would have lost the election. Low white voter turnout coupled with a record high number of black voters made Obama an easy winner.
Electoral college reality has set in. And since no one knows who the 2016 candidates will be, sanity has been restored among congressional Republicans about how far they should push their opposed-to-amnesty base to play for Democratic votes they’ll never get.
As for the Republicans who turned coat, their Senate careers may end when their terms do. Gang Republicans Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake skipped the celebratory photo ops, realizing that front page images of them hugging Gang liberals Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin might kill their reelection chances.
Through the Internet‘s power, previous staunch anti-amnesty campaign pledges “yea” voting Republican senators made will live on. Here’s a sampling. Flake: amnesty is “a dead end,” Orrin Hatch: “We can no longer grant amnesty,” Rubio: “I would vote against anything that has amnesty in it,” McCain: “I’ll build the dang fence,” Kelly Ayotte: “I don’t support amnesty; it’s wrong.” Little wonder Americans feel that Washington has abandoned them.
The next time they hit the stump, Hatch will be 86 and will have served in the Senate for 40 years; McCain, 80 with a 30-year congressional career. Rubio’s polling has dropped precipitously since he assumed spokesman status for the Gang’s Republicans. Breaking promises is bad business for duplicitous politicians, young or old.
The House watched the public take the Senate to the woodshed over the unpopular immigration bill. On July 10, we’ll have an idea how much attention the House has been paying to the outpouring of disgust. The House Republican Conference will meet in the Capitol basement to figure out what to do with the Senate-passed bill. Lawmakers will have just returned from a week in their districts, hearing constituents’ feedback. House leadership expects most members will want to do the right thing and stop S. 744 dead in its tracks.