Immigration debate reverses D.C. politics

The immigration debate is shredding D.C.’s typical political coalitions, causing progressives, libertarians and business interests to briefly ally against a virtual coalition of conservatives and old-style liberals.

The shift is highlighted by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican who has argued against the far-reaching Senate bill by using research from the conservative Heritage Foundation and the union-backed Economic Policy Institute, plus a left-wing Harvard economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

“I don’t think it is any wonder the Communications Workers of America have written us to oppose this [bill],” Sessions said recently during a committee debate over the bill.

“I expect them to defend the American worker. They have been rather lax on it, in my opinion,” said Sessions, who has an 11 percent lifetime vote-rating from the AFL-CIO.

Sessions also aimed his message at university-educated youth, who lean Democratic at the ballot box. “I don’t know if you’ve talked to your college grads and been to college graduation ceremonies recently, but a lot of those kids are wondering where they’re going to get a job,” he warned his Senate colleagues.

And he landed several jabs at the business groups that are backing the bill’s expended guest-worker program. “Should our immigration policy serve the national interest or the special interest of certain companies?” he said.

In contrast, the bill’s backers have downplayed their support among ethnic lobbies and progressives, and have boosted their outreach to GOP Senators by highlighting support from billionaire capitalists and their wives, high-profit companies seeking more guest-workers, the CATO Institute’s libertarian analysts, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and even Grover Norquist, who has long been a hate-figure on the left for his opposition to taxes.

The ideological realignment contrast was noted with amusement by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate’s judiciary committee, who playfully offered Sessions a seat on the Democratic side of the table.

“The Senator from Alabama has quoted with approval a Harvard professor [George Borjas], Paul Krugman of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Atlantic [magazine]. Welcome home!,” said Leahy.