A Finger in the Eye of Hispanic Voters

House Republicans are going out of their way to antagonize a key part of the electorate.

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Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. questions organizations that say they were unfairly targeted by the Internal Revenue Service while seeking tax-exempt status testify at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013.

Honestly, when I saw that House Republicans had passed an amendment today which would defund President Obama's limited, executive-order-driven Dream Act, my first thought was to wonder what the GOP is thinking. Does this party have a death wish?

This isn't the political equivalent of rocket science. Hispanics voted overwhelmingly to support Obama last year. And given demographic trends regarding the share of the electorate they're going to make up in coming years, neither party can afford to become noncompetitive with these voters. It's a matter of political survival. And many Republicans know this – see the Republican National Committee's 2012 post-mortem, for example, or the College Republicans' recent version.

Immigration is not the number one issue for Hispanic voters, but it is a gateway issue and one that gets to tone and outlook. If voters think a party is hostile to and/or distrustful of them, they're going to tune that party out. So rational Republicans (not to mention a whole lot of their corporate backers) want to get immigration reform done.

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

But today's GOP – especially its House denizens – aren't about rationality. So they cast the vote they did today. And it's not an isolated occurrence. The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta looks at how the GOP is trying to blow its 2016 chances:

House Republicans walking away from comprehensive immigration reform. Tying a path to citizenship to continued second-class standing on access to health insurance. Voting to resume deporting undocumented immigrants brought here as children, a year after President Obama issued an executive order instructing the Department of Homeland Security to use discretion and make such deportations a low priority.

And this isn't simply bad policy or stumbling into bad politics. This is going out of their way to charge into bad politics. It's not like there's any chance this amendment becomes law. So why make a point of voting for it?

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

I was at a press breakfast yesterday with Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican who is vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, and he was asked about whether the GOP would suffer politically if it is blamed for killing immigration reform this year. Price, who favors the House GOP's official approach of going piecemeal on immigration reform rather than trying to tackle it comprehensively, made a couple of enlightening comments.

First, he said that "I think what the American people want is to see individuals working to solve challenges." I tend to think that what the American people actually want is to see their elected representatives actually solving challenges rather than simply trying – this isn't kindergarten: You don't get points for trying really hard; you get points for getting stuff done.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

The second thing he said was that legislation with a path to citizenship or a path to legal status wouldn't pass the House with a majority of Republican votes because the GOP doesn't trust "the administration to enforce the current laws that are on the books as they relate to much of immigration." But he then went on to conflate the views of his party and its base with the broader electorate: "The American people don't trust Washington in this area because the promise that was made in 1986 has been broken," he said, referring to the deal President Ronald Reagan signed which provided amnesty for illegal immigrants back then in exchange for promises of border security. "There's no trust at all. The first step in regaining that trust is living up to the promise that was made to the nation back in 1986 and that is controlling and securing the border."

Two points. First, the border is far more secure than it has been. Second, if mistrust of Washington was as widespread as Price seems to suppose, polls would show deep opposition to both comprehensive immigration reform and a way for currently illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, but poll after poll shows otherwise. A recent poll conducted for Bloomberg showed that 74 percent of adults favor "Allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to become citizens, provided they don't have criminal records, they pay fines and back taxes, and they wait more than 10 years." That's hardly angry mistrust of Washington regarding immigration.

The problem is that House Republicans either confuse their base's wishes or simply don't want to cross them. Either way, they're voting themselves a path to oblivion.

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