Whatever else one might think about Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), we can all agree that he is a very savvy and partisan politician. With his party in political trouble over the state of the economy, declining middle class wages, and the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, Schumer is busy setting a trap to distract Republicans from the core issues that concern American voters and trick them into doing the Democrats’ political bidding.
In a January speech to the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank that functions as the Obama administration’s farm team, Schumer astutely identified the issue that will determine the outcome of 2014 and 2016 elections: Widespread angst about the decline of the American middle class. “Since 2001, median income in the U.S. has declined by 10 percent,” he told the CAP audience.
A burning political issue for the Democrats’ activist base in Obama’s second term is immigration reform – or, more precisely, amnesty for illegal aliens. In the near term, legalizing millions of low-skilled, low-wage illegal aliens is a critical component to expanding dependency and demand for the sorts of government programs that favor Democrats. In the long term, it will expand the party’s voter base as amnesty recipients attain citizenship.
So, how can Democrats get amnesty done without facing the same retribution from voters they encountered after passing Obamacare in 2010? Simple: Get the Republicans to do it for them. Let the Republicans divide their party, burn bridges with their base and give swing voters one more reason not to vote for them, while the Democrats focus on the issues that, in Schumer’s words, are “important in determining who wins these elections.”
The plan appears to be working. After years of pundits and political advisors pounding the specious argument that standing in the way of amnesty for illegal aliens is the reason Republicans have lost the last two presidential elections, the party’s leadership seems to be taking the bait. As House Republicans meet to discuss their 2014 strategy, an inordinate amount of time will be spent discussing immigration instead of the real reason Republicans find themselves in the political wilderness: They’ve also failed to convince the middle class that they understand their concerns.
While Republicans are busy engaging in self-immolation over ill-advised immigration proposals the American public neither wants nor cares about, Schumer lays out five unrelated issues he believes his party needs to focus on between now and November. All of them are bread and butter issues consistent with the American public’s concerns that the middle class is in peril.
Whether the Schumer plan to save the middle class would work is debatable. Nevertheless, Democrats will get credit for talking about what voters care about, while Republicans are engaging in divisive semantic arguments about whether illegal aliens should be given a “pathway to citizenship” as opposed to a “special pathway to citizenship.”
Most importantly, in falling into the trap that’s been laid for them, Republicans are forfeiting the opportunity to make case to the American people that Schumer’s own immigration plan is one of the greatest threats to the middle class. Schumer’s plan, which is now being repackaged by House Republicans and sold as something different, calls for flooding the already saturated U.S. labor markets with millions of newly legalized workers, and as many as 20 million new legal immigrant workers in the next decade.
Republicans should be making the irrefutable case that enforcing laws against illegal immigration and reducing overall levels of immigration would benefit struggling middle class workers. Instead, House leaders are on the verge of taking ownership of the only major legislative initiative that is likely to be even less popular with voters than Obamacare.
Regardless of whether any amnesty legislation passes the House in 2014, the Democrats would emerge the winners as the Republicans’ sideshow distracts from the real issues American voters want addressed. Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama understand this. That’s why they are happy to step back and let House Republicans have at it.
Stein is president of the Fedration for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR.