Republicans are increasingly concerned that President Obama's latest push for immigration reform is designed as a political play for Latino voters that could hurt the GOP even if the proposal fails.
Strategists of both major parties predict that Obama's plan for what he calls comprehensive immigration reform will die in the House because of implacable opposition from tea party conservatives in the Republican party. Many opponents say Obama's concept of a "path to citizenship" or legal residency for millions of people who entered the United States illegally is a form of amnesty which the opponents won't accept.
But GOP strategists are worried that Obama's accelerating campaign for the legislation will impress Latinos that he is on their side while the Republicans seem opposed to their interests. Obama got 70 percent of the Latino vote in the 2012 election, and Democrats hope to use immigration as a rallying cry for these voters again in the 2014 midterm campaign and in the 2016 general election.
Stung by their failure to win recent fights over the government shutdown and a potential federal default, some House Republicans have dug in their heels in their approach to the White House.
"If anything, the revival of comprehensive immigration reform is deader now than before the shutdown [which ended with Obama getting most of what he wanted and the GOP largely failing to reach its goals]," political scientist Ross Baker of Rutgers told me. "The conservatives in the House simply cannot tolerate another outcome that their supporters interpret as capitulation. ... It's 'no surrender' from now on."
Obama gave a speech at the White House Thursday to keep the pressure on House Republicans to take action. Obama admitted that immigration reform's prospects for passage are doubtful but pledged to forge ahead. "We've got the time to do it," he said. "Republicans in the House, including the speaker, have said we should act. So let's not wait. It doesn't get easier to just put it off. Let's do it now. Let's not delay."
House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman said the speaker has no plans to call for a vote any time soon. He prefers what he calls a "step by step approach" rather than the extensive legislation Obama favors.
But Obama urged supporters of comprehensive legislation to "keep it up. Keep putting the pressure on all of us to get this done."
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met with business leaders at the White House Thursday to coordinate strategy on immigration legislation. Among those attending were representatives of conservative-oriented groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. White House officials hope these groups can help persuade congressional Republicans to support immigration legislation.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the House should take up an immigration bill that has passed the Senate as the vehicle for a compromise. "We believe that, should a bill like that be allowed to get an up or down vote on the floor of the house, that there would be a majority in the House in support of it, and that that majority would be made up of Democrats and Republicans," Carney said.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.