Jumping into immigration reform could cut both ways politically for Democrats

Immigration’s arrival as a possible legislative issue reflects the aggressive approach Democrats have taken since the passage of healthcare reform.

Democrats have played offense since Obama signed the healthcare bill, first by pushing a Wall Street reform bill to the floor, and now by signaling a fight on immigration is on the horizon.

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The danger on immigration, however, is that it can cut both ways.

Dozens of House and Senate Democrats representing more conservative districts or states will want to avoid voting on one of the most divisive debates in the country’s politics.

House Democratic leaders have insisted they will not move on immigration reform before the Senate for precisely this reason. A move on immigration reform in the Senate would violate Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) pledge to not force her members to take tough votes in an election year unless the Senate acts first.

Both legislative battles are perilous for Republicans.

On the former, they must fight off accusations that they are opposing financial reform at the behest of lobbyists for big banks and other financial firms.

On the latter, they risk alienating Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the population.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) sidestepped a question Sunday from Fox host Chris Wallace, who asked whether the growing Hispanic population made immigration a difficult subject for Republicans.

“I just don’t think this is the right time to take up the issue with the border security problems, the drug wars going on across the border, 10 percent unemployment,” said McConnell, who did not address the electoral implications.

The difficulty for the GOP on immigration was apparent in the starkly different immediate reactions from Republican and Democratic leaders to Arizona’s tough new immigration law, which would allow state police to stop and question anyone they reasonably suspect as being an illegal immigrant.

Democrats went on the attack even before Arizona’s governor signed the law, while House and Senate Republicans were quiet and released no statements.

On Twitter on Friday evening and Saturday morning, several Democrats criticized the decision, but not a single Republican lawmaker offered a comment on the Arizona law or on the issue of immigration, even though the topic dominated the news cycle.

Arizona’s law has the potential to drive Hispanic voters away from the GOP, said Mario Lopez, president of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund.

Democrats realize this, which is why they are pushing the matter, Lopez said. Democrats appear “perfectly content to use American Latinos as political pawns” rather than actually work on immigration legislation, he said.

Immigration resonates politically in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) faces a difficult re-election contest.

Large Hispanic populations in Nevada as well as Colorado and California, two other states where incumbent Democrats face tough contests, could prove the difference.

Nevada and Colorado both switched to the Democratic column in the 2008 presidential race, largely because of Hispanic voters.



The situation is different in the House, where a push on immigration could be problematic for vulnerable Democrats in areas such as Arkansas, Virginia and upstate New York.


Wall Street reform is more of a clear-cut difficult issue for the GOP, which is why Reid has scheduled a vote Monday evening on proceeding to the bill.

Reid does not believe Republicans will want to block consideration of the legislation, particularly in the wake of e-mails released Saturday by Democrats on a Senate investigative panel that appeared to show Goldman Sachs executives reveling in their profits from betting against mortgage-backed securities.

Goldman Sachs executives will testify before a Senate panel on Tuesday in a high-profile hearing intended to increase the pressure on Republicans to vote for a Wall Street reform bill.

McConnell and other Republicans on Sunday said they want to vote for financial reform, but warned they will block consideration of the bill if leaders on the Senate Banking Committee fail to reach a deal.

“This is not a situation where anyone wants no bill to pass,” McConnell said Sunday.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) echoed those remarks.

“I think everybody knows I want to see a bill,” said Corker, who added that an agreement is “in play.”