Voters Beat Donors In House Immigration Debate

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

The House passed a tough anti-amnesty bill Wednesday, marking a major victory for poll data over donor pressure.

Only 26 GOP members objected to some of the anti-amnesty measures, which are designed to block Obama’s plan to effectively halt deportation of unauthorized migrants and to hand out roughly 5 million work-permits to illegals.

That’s a big turnaround from December, when House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders ignored the GOP’s anti-amnesty base as they pushed through a 2015 budget that funded Obama’s amnesty until the end of February.

The budget bill passed Wednesday would fund the Department of Homeland Security from February to October, but it also bars any spending to implement Obama’s amnesty, which was announced in November.

The bill will be sent quickly over to the Senate. That will create a headache for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has usually supported business groups’ call for expanded immigration of low-wage workers.

Republican Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions will likely be the leading Senate champion for the bill. “This vote represents one of the most important constitutional votes that has ever come before this body,” he said in a statement after the House vote.

“I would encourage every Senate Democrat to pause and consider this question before acting: to whom do you owe your allegiance? To party leaders, to donors, to the citizens of other countries, or to the American citizens who elected you and the Constitution that protects their rights?” he said.

This week, Sessions sent a polling memo to his fellow senators saying GOP opposition to Obama’s amnesty can help elect a Republican to the White House in 2016.

But many of the 54 GOP senators are reluctant to support the bill, and a handful will likely vote against the bill. These opponents likely include South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Arizona’s Jeff Flake.

McConnell will need support from roughly 10 Democratic senators to get the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected Democratic filibuster.

That’s unlikely, even though polls show lopsided opposition among Republican and Democratic voters for laws that allow companies to hire guest-workers and immigrants prior to Americans.

For example, a September poll by Paragon Insights showed that large slices of the Democratic coalition would be “much more likely” to vote for a GOP candidate who says that “the first goal of immigration policy needs to be getting unemployed Americans back to work — not importing more low-wage workers to replace them.” 38 percent of African-Americans, 39 percent of Democratic women, 36 percent of Latinos and roughly 47 percent of midwesterners said they would be much more likely to support a GOP candidate who favors the employment of Americans.

A push is unlikely because the GOP Senators are under intense pressure from business groups to avoid any criticism of immigration.

GOP leaders may succumb to business pressure, and only make a weak effort to push the bill through the Senate.

White House officials say the president will veto the budget bill because his amnesty policy makes sense.

Also, they argue that the GOP bill undermines border security because the president’s veto will limit research and equipment maintenance by the border agency. “The most important thing to do is to fund these agencies so they can do their job,” Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s top domestic policy director, told reporters after the House passed the bill.

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