House Democrats are warning that Republican efforts to undo President Obama's lenient deportation policies have just cost the GOP the White House in 2016.
"We need to put it in terms of consequences. Next November of 2016 is going to be a really, really early night," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Wednesday. "They'll win counties; they'll win in [congressional] districts. … But they'll never be a national party if they turn their backs, like they're doing today, on the immigrant community."
Republican leaders on Wednesday passed a series of proposals to scale back several actions taken by Obama in recent years to revamp his immigration policies in the name of keeping families together.
One GOP provision would block the president's recent order to halt deportations and allow work permits for as many as 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally. Another would end his 2012 deferred action program, which allows high-achieving illegal immigrants brought to the country as children to stay and work.
Republican supporters say the provisions are needed to rein in a president they've long accused of abusing his executive authority with policy changes not approved by Congress.
"We are dealing with a president who has ignored the people, ignored the Constitution, and even his own past statements," House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) said in a rare floor speech just before the votes.
Democrats have come to Obama's defense, arguing that the president has acted well within his authority and calling on Republicans to get moving on comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would eliminate the need for the executive actions.
"Executive acts alone cannot fix our broken immigration system, but the president was right to act in the light of a failure to act by the House," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday at a press briefing in the Capitol.
The GOP immigration provisions passed the House on a largely partisan vote as part of broader legislation funding the Department of Homeland Defense (DHS) beyond February. That package is not expected to get the 60 votes needed to move through the Senate, where Democrats and some centrist Republicans oppose the conservative immigration provisions. Additionally, the White House has threatened to veto the package if it includes amendments that undermine Obama's executive actions.
But Democrats are warning that, for the Republicans, the political damage has been done, as the House votes are plenty to sink the GOP's image in the eyes of immigrant voters in 2016.
"It is an opportunity for Democrats [and] for our communities — for the American citizen voters who stayed home in November — to wake up," said freshman Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), a native of Guatemala.
National GOP leaders have long warned congressional Republicans that a failure to act on comprehensive immigration reform could solidify the Hispanic vote for Democrats and threaten the Republicans' chances in 2016 — a fear heightened by Obama's 2012 victory, when roughly 70 percent of Hispanic voters chose the president over Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
In response, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE and Republican leaders seemed poised to move on immigration reform last January, roughly six months after the Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill with broad bipartisan support. To launch that effort, the Republicans floated a set of reform "principles" designed to govern the House debate and ease conservative concerns that Congress would go too soft on illegal immigrants.
It didn't work. Instead, conservative Republicans revolted, largely due to a provision allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country and work without fear of deportation. Faced with the pressure from his right, Boehner shelved the issue for the year.
That episode hasn't been forgotten by Democratic immigration reform advocates, who used this week's DHS debate to remind Republicans of their own legalization push.
"What happened?" Gutiérrez prodded on the chamber floor Wednesday. "One year later … what happened to that principle? Just gave it up?
"Let me just tell you about one number … it's 270," Gutierrez added. "That's the electoral college — it's the number it takes to elect the president of the United States.