Immigration Reform 2013: Republican "Obstructionism" in the House Makes Sense


Ezra Klein had an interesting piece today in the Washington Post about the politics of the immigration bill in the House, the chamber long assumed to potentially give a deathblow to immigration reform. In it, he argues that contrary to conventional wisdom, it may not be in Republicans' best electoral interest to sign off on the bill — at least as far as the House is concerned. The case Klein makes is quite simple and convincing, and really hammers a crucial point home: The RNC (Republican National Committee) leadership are fundamentally at odds with much of the Republican constituency on this issue, and House Republicans could be described as acting in their best electoral interest.

Although the Senate Bill could be fairly characterized as moderate, House Republicans contend that there are still major issues with the recently passed Senate bill. One such issue is the pathway to citizenship provisions. It's hard to see how a major aspect of the Senate bill could be thrown out like that and simultaneously not compromise Democratic support in the Senate. Democrats have already stated that the gutting of pathway provisions is a non-starter. House Republicans have also voiced their concerns about border security, even after a 46 billion dollar border security amendment that would make us, in John McCain’s words, "The most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall." Currently, however, the House is working on even more strict security provisions, provisions that can't certainly help the bill's long-term prospects.

In his piece, Klein points out that of the 234 House Republicans in office, a measly 16% of them come from districts where Latinos make up more than 20% of the constituency. Also, according to the Cook Political Report, only 28 Republican districts are perceived to be somewhat at risk for the upcoming election. In other words, this is more of a Senate-Oval Office problem.

These basic statistics are driving much of the reluctance to pass immigration reform in the House. It's very simple; if politicians don't feel much pressure from their constituents to act, or feel even more pressure to not act in the way the national party would have them act, it's reasonable to expect to see what the media characterizes as GOP obstructionism when it comes to passing a comprehensive bill that both parties will sign onto. It's in large part why Speaker Boehner announced that the Senate bill has no chance in the House whatsoever. If the majority of House Republican constituents are opposed to many of the provisions in the senate bill, and perceive of them as nothing more than amnesty, it is to be expected that their representatives will approach the issue the same way.

Does failure to pass this bill amount to the death of the Republican Party? That's what some argue, and it could certainly make it tougher to win both Senate and presidential elections going forward. After all, it's much more difficult to gerrymander presidential and Senate races than it is House seats.