Let’s Compare Republicans’ Pro-Keystone Campaign With Their Anti-Amnesty Push

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The GOP’s Senate leadership mounted a long and emotional election-style campaign to win nine Democratic votes for their legislation to approve the Keystone pipeline.

But the same Senate leadership didn’t release even one poll or one Internet attack ad as it conducted a low-profile and unemotional effort to block President Barack Obama’s November amnesty plan.

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t won support from a single Democratic senator for the anti-amnesty language included in the Department of Homeland Security’s 2015 budget bill. He didn’t even win support from Sen. Joe Manchin, who faces West Virginia’s pro-GOP voters again in 2018.

In contrast, Democrats have mounted a hard-nosed pressure campaign against the GOP’s amnesty-defunding plan — complete with skewed polls and attack ads — and they’ve flipped a pair of GOP senators into their column — Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk and Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

McConnell announced Monday that he would remove the anti-amnesty language and put it into a separate bill.

The Daily Caller asked McConnell Tuesday why he had not tried a Keystone-style PR campaign to draw support for the anti-amnesty DHS funding bill.

“On Keystone, you fought a tough fight. You put out press releases slamming billionaires who are making life more difficult for American working-class people. And you won that fight in the Senate. Why aren’t you applying the same tough strategy on the immigration fight?” TheDC asked.

McConnell ignored the question.

“Yeah, I’m not sure what your question is,” he said, and then began touting his new offer to split the defund language from the DHS bill.

“I think the issue before us is this: Do you want to fund the Department of Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year, so we’re fully up and running and capable of dealing with all the threats that we have around the world including those against us here at home? And would you also like to discuss your disagreement with the president’s overreach last November?”

McConnell’s change in strategy came just a week after a federal judge blocked Obama’s amnesty plan, by concluding it broke federal law governing the rollout of new regulations.

The president’s immigration polices are unpopular, especially among the GOP base and among swing voters who are worried about stalled wages, a shriveled middle class and about companies’ eagerness to hire foreign workers in place of Americans. A Gallup poll, for example, showed that only seven percent of Americans support additional immigration.

However, GOP donors favor the president’s high-immigration policies, which provide them with additional lower-wage blue-collar workers and lower-wage professionals. Those immigrants also serve as government-aided consumers, and help nudge up profits and boost investors’ share of the economy.

Shortly after quizzing McConnell, TheDC asked Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid about poll ratings for Obama’s amnesty. “Do you have any polls that say your position backing the president’s measure is popular?” TheDC asked.

Like McConnell, Reid punted. “I don’t know what’s popular; I just know what the right thing to do is,” he replied.

NEXT PAGE: Democratic senators dismiss Republicans’ efforts

A Feb. 24 poll by the Federation for American Immigration Reform shows lopsided opposition to the amnesty in eight swing states.

In Indiana, for example, only 10.5 percent of 608 likely voters said they strongly support “the president acting on his own to allow about 5 million illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. and grant them work authorization,” said the poll by the FAIR group, which favors a reduction in the annual inflow of roughly 2 million migrants.  In contrast, 50 percent of respondents in the poll said they strongly oppose the action.

That FAIR poll matches results from prior polls that highlighted the job and wage impacts of Obama’s immigration policies.

Democratic senators dismissed the GOP’s efforts in the amnesty fight.

The Daily Caller asked New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez if the GOP leadership has been fighting to win the amnesty debate, or was just going through the motions.

“Motions,” he told TheDC as he boarded a Senate elevator Feb. 24.

TheDC asked Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown if the GOP had pressured him to vote against the amnesty, for example, by running anti-amnesty ads in his home state. “I don’t know they’ve been running ads. I never really thought of that,” he responded.

Several GOP senators also disavowed election-style pressure tactics in the amnesty fight. “My focus has been on constitutional overreach,” Collins told TheDC Tuesday. Sen. Kirk told TheDC that the issue isn’t central to his service.

In the Tuesday press conference, Sen. John Cornyn, a GOP leader, touted the court’s anti-amnesty injunction, not polls or jobs or fairness to Americans. “With this federal court injunction in place, any money that the U.S. Congress approves for the Department of Homeland Security will not go to fund the president’s illegal executive action,” he told reporters.

Democrats, however, used their Feb. 24 press conference to repeat their many emotional and scary messages deigned to defeat McConnell’s anti-amnesty bill.

“We need to protect our homeland,” Reid said. “We have people being beheaded, people being stacked in cages — one of them has been burned in a cage — we have the direct threat to our malls around America, and we have to be as prepared for these bad people as ISIS and other terrorist groups prepare to do harm to us.”

“Our first responsibility is to protect this country, and protect it against the threat of terrorism,” said Sen. Dick Durbin.

Some GOP leaders are eager to use emotional pitches to win the immigration issue in 2014 and in 2016.

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said he would have liked to run a campaign against the pro-amnesty Democratic senators, but doesn’t have the funds.

Sen. Jeff Sessions used a Tuesday speech on the Senate floor to slap Obama’s amnesty. “Congress cannot fund — cannot, must not fund — an illegal action,” he said.

Sessions cited a Feb. 24 administration announcement that promised work permits to an additional 230,000 foreign workers over the next two years. “The first thing we should do is be focusing on getting jobs for Americans that are unemployed,” he said. “Are we going to keep Americans on welfare and benefits while we bring in more and more foreigners to take jobs when we’ve got Americans ready and willing to take those jobs?”

“Well, what if your child wants a job? What if you want a job? What if your spouse wants a job and is looking at a job and now we’ve got another, what, 250,000 job applicants, contrary to law?” he said.

Since 2009, Obama has quietly added roughly 4.7 million working-age migrants to the workforce, alongside roughly 4 million regular legal working-age immigrants. All compete for jobs against the roughly 24 million young Americans who have entered the workforce since 2009.

In November 2014, one in every five U.S. jobs was held by a foreign-born worker, up from one-in-six jobs in January 2010, according to federal data highlighted by the Center for Immigration Studies.

Obama’s November amnesty would add roughly 5 million more illegal immigrants to the legal labor force. It would provide them with work permits, tax rebates, enrollment in Social Security and a quick path to citizenship, medical programs and the voting booth. The direct financial cost for taxpayers — and gain for businesses — would be roughly $2 trillion over the next five decades, which is equivalent to a tax of $22,000 tax on every college graduate in the next 50 years.

NEXT PAGE: How the GOP fought on Keystone

GOP leaders are willing to use similar emotional language in their long and successful campaign to win Democratic support for the Keystone pipeline.

Shortly before McConnell ignored TheDC’s question about the ineffective push for anti-amnesty votes, GOP leader Sen. John Barrasso repeated the GOP’s Keystone language.

The Keystone bill was sent to the White House, so “the president is finally going to have to decide where to stand,” Barrasso told the reporters at McConnell’s press conference.

“Does he stand with the American people, the great majority of people, who support this bipartisan bill, and the energy and the jobs that come with it, or is he going to stand with special interests and Washington lobbyists?” Barrasso said.

Obama “should listen to American voters and people all across the country who want the jobs and the energy … [but] he’s choosing Washington lobbyists and special interests over the needs and desires of the American people,” Barrasso said.

Shortly after the press conference, Obama vetoed the Keystone bill, giving the GOP an easy way to claim in 2016 that Democratic policies hurt blue-collar wage-earners.

The same amnesty vs. Keystone contrast in tone and strategy was highlighted by new press releases from GOP committees.

Sen. John Thune’s Senate Republican Communications Center issued a Feb. 24 statement titled “Obama’s Keystone Choice: Workers Or The 1%.”

“Unions ‘Urge The President To Sign This Bill,’ Ignore ‘Deep Pocketed Billionaire’ … ‘Washington Should Put Job Creation And The Livelihoods Of Working Men And Women Ahead Of … Deep Pocketed Billionaire Funders,'” the statement said, before listing a series of pro-pipeline poll numbers and pro-pipeline statements from Democratic-leaning union leaders.

The statements included a blue-collar pitch from Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “This legislation is a jobs bill for the thousands of union construction workers that will build this Pipeline. … To try to justify their pandering to environmental extremists and their billionaire backers by attacking the jobs that the Pipeline would create is cowardly,” said the union statement in Thune’s press release.

But there was no emotion in a perfunctory Feb. 23 statement from Thune’s committee about Obama’s amnesty. “Dems Claim To Be ‘Concerned About The Constitutional Separation Of Powers,’ But When The Chips Are Down They Back A President Who Is Blatantly ‘Ignoring The Law,'” said the statement, which also listed semi-critical comments from eight Senate Democrats about the the process used by Obama to launch his amnesty.

“I have concerns about executive action. … This is a job for Congress,” said one of the statements, by Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who won election in November without being challenged on the amnesty issue by his GOP rival.

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