Is immigration reform the Obamacare of vulnerable, incumbent Republicans in 2014? Just as incumbent Democratic senators up for reelection this year have been distancing themselves from the president and the travesty that has become Obamacare, immigration reform may pose a similar problem for Republicans facing primary opponents. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has stated that there won’t be immigration reform in 2014—luckily for him, the year he’s up for reelection:
I think we have an irresolvable conflict here. The Senate insists on comprehensive. The House says it won’t go to conference with the Senate on comprehensive and wants to look at step-by-step.
CNN adds that McConnell “did not take a position on the GOP outline.”
McConnell will face businessman Matt Bevin in a late May primary. Bevin is campaigning as a genuinely conservative alternative to McConnell, and immigration is one issue where Bevin sharply distinguishes himself from the Senate minority leader. While this week’s polls show an increase in popularity for both Bevin and McConnell’s Democratic challenger, the Kentucky incumbent should be safe. Still, regardless of the odds, a Republican primary will force candidates to prove themselves to their base on issues like immigration.
While conservatives, especially those who will show up to vote in a primary, have strong feelings against anything that resembles amnesty, a recent Pew poll lists immigration as a very low priority (16th) among general voters. Do the results mean that the GOP doesn’t need to focus on immigration legislation?
Even if some accept the “conventional wisdom” that immigration will decide the future of the GOP, why does the issue need to be addressed now? Voters appear to be more concerned with leaders “strengthening the nation’s economy” and “improving the job situation.” Both issues are strong points for Republicans and cause less party infighting.
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is also pessimistic about the passage of immigration reform, and blames the lack of a bill on the president. Other House leaders are following suit. Is this “pessimism” just a way of appearing proactive on the issue while not alienating their base? Republican opinion seems to be that striking a deal on immigration should be shelved in favor of a focus on the economy:
“I think it’s a mistake for us to have an internal battle in the Republican Party this year about immigration reform,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told reporters at a gathering of conservatives. “I think when we take back the Senate in 2014, one of the first things we should do next year, after we do certain economic issues, I think we should address the immigration issue.”
Labrador’s comments were noteworthy as he was one of eight House members working on bipartisan immigration legislation last year. He later abandoned the negotiations.
Maybe not this year, but if the GOP does take the Senate in 2014, what will immigration policy look like then?