SAN DIEGO – Now that the immigration debate has moved to the House of Representatives, the dominant media narrative is that Republicans are itching to kill the reform bill.
Yet few journalists scrutinize the left. Democrats have an itch of their own. They want to appear to champion immigration reform to please Latino voters, but they can’t afford to go too far lest they make enemies of blue-collar workers who fear that legalizing the undocumented will lower wages.
Democrats – who didn’t go anywhere near the issue from 2009 to 2011, when they controlled Congress and the White House – have little interest in walking into the 2014 election as the party that brought “amnesty” to America. Democrats need Republicans to throw a public tantrum, and kill the legislation. They get the preferred outcome, and their hands are clean.
Democrats don’t deliver much leadership, but they’re good at gamesmanship. They toy with the opposition. They try to manipulate their opponents into making mistakes.
The immigration debate resembles the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and Democrats are winning every match. They have two advantages: a helping hand from the news media and a Latino community willing to believe that the Democratic Party is their friend. Plus, many Republicans have shown a boneheaded tendency to say and do the wrong thing when it comes to immigration.
The Democrats’ game-playing has gotten so bad that, every time a Democratic leader says anything at all about immigration, it’s time to look for the angle.
• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she believes that passing immigration reform is “certainly right for the Republicans if they ever want to win a presidential race.”
• Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a member of the Gang of Eight, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the House will pass the Senate bill “by the end of the year” because Republicans “will tell (House Speaker) John Boehner, ‘If you don’t pass a bill, we’re going to be a minority party for a generation.’”
• Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid predicted at a news conference in Las Vegas that “immigration is going to pass the House of Representatives” and insisted that “if (the GOP) were smart, they would take (the Senate) bill” and start from there.
• Even President Obama joined in the fray. “The ball is in the House’s court,” he said during his recent trip to Africa. Then he turned up the heat by setting a deadline. “I do urge the House to try to get this done before the August recess,” he said.
What is this about? Democrats are certainly not interested in helping Republicans win elections by attracting Hispanic support. Their strategy appears to be driven by old-fashioned politics.
On the one hand, they are daring Republicans to walk the plank in support of immigration reform, knowing it will hurt them with their base. Democrats know the GOP is in chaos, and that the party is divided between business interests who want workers and nativists who worry about the Latinization of America. They’re hoping to widen the gap.
On the other, Democrats must know that they are going to win no matter how this turns out. If we do get reform, they’ll get all the credit. If we don’t, Republicans will get the blame.
Meanwhile, some of their allies are pushing the myth that the Hispanic vote is actually up for grabs in 2014 and that the GOP stands to benefit politically if it passes immigration reform. They’ve even produced survey data from left-leaning polling outfits that is supposed to back the idea that Hispanic support for the GOP is not such a lost cause after all.
This is a cruel hoax. While Latinos will continue to support individual Republican candidates who are right-minded on immigration – i.e., Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and anyone named Bush – they are highly unlikely to support the Republican Party en masse.
Some people forgive and forget. But as long as Republicans – in Congress, in state legislatures and in the punditry – are still spouting off with racist nonsense charging that immigrants from Mexico and the rest of Latin America are inferior or defective, Latinos aren’t in the mood to do either.
Let’s stop playing games. If Democrats and their surrogates spent half as much time trying to solve this issue as they do toying with it, we’d have a better immigration system, a better debate and a better country.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright, The Washington Post Writers Group.