Republican leaders ducked and dodged this weekend to avoid answering questions about their plans for a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws, but their comments indicated a determination to move ahead with President Barack Obama’s top legislative priority.
The leaders’ evasions were jeered by conservatives.
The federal government’s insincere promises of proper enforcement “has been going on so long that even the least savvy base voters… aren’t being fooled by this,” said D.A. King, an immigration reformer based in Atlanta, Ga.
The evasions show that “they’re putting on a face with the public until the timing is right,” perhaps after the Spring primaries, said King, who wants to reduce the current immigration inflow of 1 million people per year. “The Republican establishment is clearly saying to voters ‘drop dead.’”
“Who knows if these people are playing a game — it’s very difficult to pin them down,” said Dave Gorak, a former Chicago journalist who now runs the Wisconsin-based Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration. “You’re dealing with people who do not rely on logic and common sense — it’s a scary time, there’s doubt about it.”
CBS White House reporter Major Garrett asked GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Sunday if the GOP plan would allow the 12 million illegal immigrants to get citizenship.
Cantor changed the subject.
“There’s a lot of focus on the immigration issue, but you know in reality, we not only want to help the situation there, a lot of the discussion that we had with our members at the retreat was that we want to help the problems right now: job growth and the lack of the job growth,” said Cantor, who is the second-ranking GOP leader.
Garrett also asked Cantor if the GOP leaders, including Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, want a so-called “trigger” that would delay benefits for illegals until new security measures are working and approved by the courts.
“Well, no one is satisfied with the use of that term,” Cantor said as he evaded the question. Goodlatte did not appear on the TV shows, even though his Judiciary committee will write the planned legislation.
On ABC, Rep. Paul Ryan, a leading advocate for an immigration rewrite, shrugged off criticism from GOP allies who say his push for an immigration increase will divide and damage the party before the 2014 election.
The rewrite is needed because “we don’t know who’s coming and going in this country… [and] we don’t trust the president to enforce the [current] law,” said Ryan, who has repeatedly called for additional low-wage guest-workers.
Ryan downplayed the prospect of a deal by highlighting its unpopularity. “We’re still having a debate in our caucus,” he said.
Both legislators also tried to steer the focus away from the immigration rewrite, which is Obama’s top legislative priority.
“We have an increasingly lawless presidency where he is actually doing the job of Congress, writing new policies and new laws without going through Congress,” Ryan said at the start of his interview, which came three days after he and House Speaker John Boehner unveiled their immigration plan.
The plan would increase the current inflow of non-agricultural guest workers — now roughly 650,000 each year. It would also allow the 12 million illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
Cantor also tried to shift the topic. “We want to help the problems right now [with] job growth… 75 percent of Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
The GOP’s leadership is also trying to minimize opposition within the GOP by downplaying the prospects of a deal.
A deal “is clearly in doubt,” said Ryan who is regarded as the GOP’s strongest ideological supporter of greater immigration.
“We’re going to continue the discussion on immigration… [but] the president has got to demonstrate, frankly, the country and the congress can trust him in implementing the laws,” Cantor said.
Obama has strongly suggested that he wants a deal, even if there’s no quick way for illegal immigrants to get citizenship.
“If the speaker proposes something that says right away: Folks aren’t being deported, families aren’t being separated, we’re able to attract top young students to provide the skills or start businesses here and then there’s a regular process of citizenship, I’m not sure how wide the divide ends up being,” Obama told CNN Feb. 1.
In August, Valerie Jarrett, his closed aide, described the proposed deal as comparable to Obamacare in importance, adding “when we look back 50 years from now, I think we will all just be extremely proud.”
The GOP leadership is also showing its eagerness to sign a deal, partly because it might reduce pro-Democratic Latino turnout in 2016.
After the Jan. 30 strategy session, GOP leaders told The Wall Street Journal that their plan “was largely accepted [by the caucus], with some reservations from rank-and-file Republicans.”
“Aides and lawmakers who feared that strong dissension would derail the effort… said there appeared to be enough support to push forward,” the WSJ reported, even though several GOP legislators at the closed-door session said two-thirds of the legislators who spoke opposed the unpopular proposal.
Also, a GOP leadership aide applauded Obama for downplaying the immigration issue in the State of the Union speech. “One senior GOP leadership aide conceded that ‘we breathed a sigh of relief when he got through immigration without making it some partisan attack,’” according to the Hill.
“A ‘sigh of relief’ can only mean relief that the President was going through with the [bipartisan] plan to get an immigration bill out of the House and to his desk,” responded one GOP aide who opposes the worker inflow. In their strategy session, “GOP leaders followed the President’s example and made a gentle sales pitch… to keep opposition cool while plowing ahead,” the aide said.
If the GOP backs the deal, they’d be hurting Americans workers during election campaign in which Obama is expected to allege that the GOP is hostile to American workers, said King. It “looks like they’re going all-out to prove the [Obama] allegation,” he added.
“Boehner and and his crew are so disconnected inside the Beltway that they don’t understand that they’re not fooling the base,” King said. In Georgia, “I don’t meet many people who don’t understand that this is an effort by big business to keep wages low.”