By
Melissa Harris Perry
updated 2/5/2013 6:50:11 PM ET 2013-02-05T23:50:11

The House Majority Leader made it clear that the GOP has become more interested in immigration, but has yet to reach out to women.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor today offered up his just-about-yearly attempt to redefine the Republican Party in one speech. It was billed as a speech that not only would “soften the Republican image,” but also would lay out how Republicans planned to “Make Life Work” for more Americans. Speaking on Morning Joe on MSNBC this morning, Cantor said that his speech would outline precisely what a party often billed as the “Party of No” actually supported.

There was a lot of pre-lionizing from conservative media this morning, as well as a tampering-down of expectations from left-leaning writers like Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, who this morning deemed Cantor’s effort “purely cosmetic.” The actual speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute for Policy Research in Washington, was noteworthy for a few things, however–most notably, Cantor’s endorsement of a path to citizenship for undocumented youth. But wait, there’s more: the No. 2 House Republican embraced the thrust of the so-called DREAM Act, a piece of immigration legislation looking to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children a pathway to citizenship. “It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home,” he said.

Whether or not Cantor backs that up with action, and rallying his fellow Republicans to vote to do this remains to be seen. But given that Republican support for immigration reform has been–by their own admission–driven largely by their fear of losing future elections, Cantor’s speech was more notable for what it didn’t mention.

He never once brought up the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)–even though he worked diligently last year to oppose a more inclusive version that eventually died at the end of the last Congress in January.

The Senate on Monday moved a new version of the VAWA forward, voting almost unanimously to put it into debate; it is expected to pass later this week. Then it will go to the House, where Cantor, Speaker John Boehner, and a Republican majority await. Cantor’s failure to mention the bill may be a hint that he doesn’t plan to support it.  “Violence” did crop up in a brief mention of the troubled D.C. neighborhood where a young student who benefited from a local scholarship program lived. “Woman” wasn’t actually spoken outside of a quote Cantor cited: “Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch…From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome…I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As Cantor noted, that’s part of an Emma Lazarus sonnet that was placed at the Statue of Liberty, meant to bolster the rhetorical impact of his immigration reform promises. But the new Senate VAWA, while not as weak as the version the House passed last year, actually weakens protections for undocumented women.  Senator Patrick Leahy has promised to include those provisions as part of immigration reform, but a) who knows how long that will take, or b) exactly why Republicans opposed those provisions so strongly that they were content to let the VAWA wither away? It will be curious to hear how pro-immigration groups and politicians respond to Cantor.

The last we’ve heard Cantor say anything on the VAWA, it came through a statement his office provided to our newsroom over a month ago. We’ve sought more comment to no avail, but perhaps the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will have more luck provoking a response with a new video released on Monday, per Talking Points Memo:

“No matter how much the Tea Party House Republicans try to rebrand their party, the fact remains: They are still the party that is blocking funding to prevent domestic violence,” DCCC press secretary Emily Bittner said in a statement. “For years, the Violence Against Women Act enjoyed broad, bipartisan support – until the Tea Party War on Women. American women don’t want to see the clock turned back on their safety or their rights, and no sales job can change the truth, that Tea Party House Republicans will relentlessly pursue their War on Women.”

The only break from Republican orthodoxy Cantor made was to talk about immigration. Latinos have put the fear of the electoral gods into Republicans like Cantor, but so far, there’s no fear of women costing them politically– even though the gender gap in last year’s election was the largest in recorded history  and that single women are the fastest-growing voting bloc.

If Republicans like Cantor are willing to make changes in this new Congress to “soften” their approach towards voters that had them tuned out, they have an odd way of showing it.

Watch the DCCC ad is below. Quite a few MHP clips in it, as you’ll see.

Video: Cantor opens door to immigration reform

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