Republicans are worried their party’s recent moves to roll back immigration measures could come back to bite them in 2016.
“Republicans already have a brand problem with Hispanics. This will only exacerbate the issue,” said Mark McKinnon, a GOP strategist who served as senior adviser on the presidential campaigns of President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Biden-Harris train wreck may have its savior: 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump Kelly raises million in third quarter Legislative limbo — how low can they go? MORE (R-Ariz.).
These worries were confirmed when House Republicans passed a Department of Homeland Security funding bill on Wednesday that strips funding for President Obama’s programs to allow illegal immigrants to temporarily stay in the country.
That bill passed despite howls from swing-district Republicans who unsuccessfully fought an amendment to end the program letting immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children to stay in the country.
The measure is likely dead on arrival in the Senate, where centrist Republicans have already expressed skepticism about some aspects. But GOP strategists worry that, if Republicans end up passing a less controversial measure, as expected, it could actually make things worse for the 2016 field by enraging the conservative base.
Meanwhile, Republicans focused on broadening the party’s appeal to Hispanics and other minority communities are sounding alarm bells about the GOP’s approach.
“The Republican strategy is all about undoing what the president has done, not doing anything proactively. The message the Latino community is receiving is one of pettiness — they’re just hearing that Republicans want to treat them all as illegals,” said Alfonso Aguilar, a former Bush administration official. “It’s not good policy, and politically, it sends a terrible message.”
Some Republicans are hoping the House’s actions will fade away by 2016 and point to pro-immigration views from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Tim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter MORE (R-Fla.) as evidence the party can approach the issue better going forward.
Other possible contenders such as Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOcasio-Cortez goes indoor skydiving for her birthday GOP rallies around Manchin, Sinema McConnell gets GOP wake-up call MORE (R-Texas) are taking the opposite approach. In a statement Thursday, the conservative said he “applaud[ed] the members of the House who fought successfully to have key language included to defund any expansion of the President’s illegal amnesty.”
More than two dozen voted against an amendment to end funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows immigrants brought here as children to stay in the U.S.; many were from swing districts or ones with large Hispanic populations.
“What Republicans have to do on the immigration issue is not just be against everything but show or say what we’re for. And I think we’re missing an opportunity here to do that,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) told The Hill before the vote.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), another swing-district Republican with many Hispanic constituents, was among 10 Republicans to vote against the overall bill.
“This bill is being done for political messaging and I think the message is all wrong. … We need to be dealing with the president’s overreach, and instead, we’re going to be dealing with the children,” he told The Hill on Tuesday.
Denham warned the party “absolutely” needs to be careful about how it frames the debate going forward if it wants to compete for the White House.
But that could be complicated by the first cattle call of the race.
Rep. Steve King (R), an influential Iowa power player, is one of the conservatives leading the hard-line charge. In less than two weeks, he’s hosting the first major Iowa presidential event of 2015. Speakers include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
King told The Hill he wants to make sure all candidates are welcome in Iowa whether they agree with him or not. But he fired back at his opponents’ claims that his approach hurts the party.
He said analysis that Romney’s “self-deportation” comments — an infamous phrase the 2012 nominee used — had hurt him in the election was “a Monday morning quarterback conclusion.”
“Do we love illegal immigrants more than we love the Constitution and the rule of law? I say the principle is more important,” he said.
And he’s likely to have allies onstage during the presidential primary debates.
“The Republican Party is at war with itself,” said Republican pollster Leslie Sanchez. “It’s going to come up in the debates. We can’t see the self-deportation type language this time around.”