The House GOP establishment fights back

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Second-term Republican Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho stunned fellow House members with his announcement that "Americans are looking for a change in the status quo." He is challenging California Republican Kevin McCarthy for the second-highest job in the House of Representatives: majority leader.

The job is vacant because Eric Cantor lost his 7th District of Virginia renomination for the November election and is quitting the post.

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Labrador continued: "I want a House leadership team that reflects the best of our conference. ... A leadership team that can bring the Republican conference together. A leadership team that can help unite and grow our party. Americans don't believe their leaders in Washington are listening and now is the time to change that."

Labrador made his move despite his "youth and inexperience" after two prominent Texas conservative adult congressmen, Pete Sessions and Jeb Ensnarling, pulled their names from the majority leader race. One should recall that Labrador refused to vote for John Boehner (Ohio) for Speaker last year.

Two political things stand in his way: One, McCarthy's apparent consensus support that kept Sessions and Hensarling from running against him and, (2) hard right-wing shots from the back benches made famous by Colorado's Tom Tancredo, who was driven from the House by establishment figures like California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa that told this correspondent back in 2001 that Tancredo was a racist.

"Tancredo Junior," Iowa's Rep. Steve King, wrote on Twitter when hearing of Labrador's announcement that Labrador was "unacceptable" because of his "pro-amnesty" stance on immigration. He is generally ignored, though his venom will be out there.

An immigration attorney before his election to Congress in 2010 with Tea Party support, Labrador was involved in a House attempt to craft a House version of the Senate's "Gang of Eight" comprehensive immigration reform. He bailed on the effort.

Nonetheless, Labrador forfeited any claim to being able to unite House factions by bailing from the conservative effort, thus, in these precincts he has no claim on "unity" or even leadership. Labrador had a golden opportunity to solve immigration problems that seem insurmountable and he ducked.

He has natural advantages that other congressmen simply do not have; he is Puerto Rican by birth and heritage, he is "Hispanic." A "Hispanic" should have a nose for immigration reform because so many Hispanics are involved, but Puerto Ricans, being natural-born U.S. citizens since 1917, really don't care about immigration reform because it does not affect them.

Labrador had an edge not because he is Puerto Rican but because he was an immigration lawyer before his election.

Labrador had several other advantages that made him a great point man for immigration reform. He knows how broken the system is.

  • His district has a tiny Hispanic population unlike his opponent for majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, who has a 30 percent Hispanic constituency which amounts to a powerful district pressure group. So he doesn't have district pressure.
  • He was elected from an overwhelming Republican district so he has few worries about reelection (Though Eric Cantor had the same advantage).
  • He is not "establishment."

Given these "advantages," Labrador lacks one giant leadership ingredient — it is almost impossible to be a leader when one rejects the team.

Rather than grabbing the Hispanic immigration conundrum by the horns when he had the best opportunity to do so, he bailed. To establish maverick credentials, he voted against Boehner while over 200 fellow Republicans voted for the Speaker. Being a member of a tiny anti-establishment cabal is not usually good for a career.

McCarthy leads by example, doesn't run off at the mouth and has built relationships to such a degree among GOP congressmen that Pete Sessions and Jeb Hansarling surrendered without a fight.

The final reason why Labrador can't win against McCarthy is experience. Ten years ago McCarthy was a California state senator elected into a Democratic-controlled Senate. Labrador was arranging for Green Cards for illegal aliens. Three years ago McCarthy was counting votes for the House GOP and building majority votes for a slew of bills that would pass the House solidly. Labrador was looking for his office.

With the possibility of Republicans gaining more House seats in November and gaining a majority in the Senate, the House GOP majority needs success which in Congress comes from finding votes, not from standing in front of a mirror chanting "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the purist of them all."

Contreras formerly wrote for the New American News Service of The New York Times.

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