Boehner sets immigration debate, but polls show growing public opposition

GOP leaders are finalizing plans for an open debate on immigration to be held by legislators at their late January closed-door strategy session in Cambridge, Md.

The debate will include a panel of legislators, an outside expert, and an open mic, allowing members to comment on a one-page set of “principles” that likely will be released at the event, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The format will put Speaker of the House John Boehner and immigration advocate Rep. Paul Ryan in the driver’s seat. But a new poll that shows increased voter hostility to an amnesty is highlighting the difficulty that they face in trying to satisfy both their November voters and their business donors.

The new Quinnipiac University poll shows that both independent and GOP voters have swung sharply against an immigration amnesty since last May.

The three-day session will also include events on Obamacare and debt, and the leaders will discuss their plans to fend off the Democrats’ expected campaign themes — a raised minimum wage, paid holidays for some workers, raised pay for women workers — with promises of faster economic growth via GOP policies. Leaders also want to boost a campaign outreach to younger voters, who have suffered the most from President Barack Obama’s economy and Obamacare.

The event will also include motivational speakers, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, retired football coach Lou Holtz, and Henry Evans, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Evans suffered a brain injury that left him able only to move his eyes and a finger. He uses an array of robots and high-tech gear to communicate and run a business.

The Quinnipiac poll, released Jan. 8, asked 1,487 registered voters if they would be more or less likely to support legislators who backed an amnesty, which was euphemistically called “a path to citizenship.”

Fifty-two percent of Republicans and 42 percent of independents said they would be less likely to vote for the legislator, even though Quinnipiac did not even tell the respondents the amnesty would apply to at least 11 million illegals.

This opposition has grown by 50 percent since a May 2013 poll by Quinnipiac, which showed that 36 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of independents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports a “pathway to citizenship.”

The new poll also showed that actual support for legislators who back an amnesty dipped slightly, from 26 percent to 25 percent among independents, and from 15 percent to 13 percent among Republicans.

The shifts comes despite vocal support from Obama, extensive cheerleading in the media and expensive advertising by business groups and billionaires, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, media mogul Michael Bloomberg and investor Steve Case. GOP leaders have also tried to mute voters’ opposition by downplaying their efforts to pass a bill.

The Quinnipiac poll did not ask voters for their views about business’ unpopular demand for additional workers.