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Why Immigration Reform Died in Congress

Republicans saw no short-term benefit to working together on an immigration overhaul.
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Why immigration reform died in Congress

Immigration reform couldn’t pass into law when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress (in 2005-2006). It couldn’t pass when a Republican was in the White House and Democrats controlled Congress (in 2007-2008). It couldn’t pass when Democrats controlled both the executive and legislative branches (in 2009-2010). And now we officially know this after yesterday: It isn’t going to pass with a Democrat in the White House, Democrats in charge of the Senate, and Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives (2011-2014). Back in 2008 or 2012, Republicans COULD argue that President Obama didn’t make immigration reform a priority, or that he took steps to stymie reform in when he was a senator. (And 2010, in particular, the one REAL moment of the Obama first term when immigration was possible, it was Senate Democratic leaders who weren’t ready to give up the politics of the issue. And the White House didn’t fight.) But now, no reasonable person can say that immigration’s death -- in 2013 and 2014 -- is anyone’s fault but House Republicans. Still, we also understand why they killed it: They saw no short-term benefit. Yes, the long-term politics (for 2016 and 2020) cry out for Republicans to remove immigration as an issue. But doing so would be so painful in the process (just see Eric Cantor’s primary defeat). All of that said, the longer Republicans wait on passing immigration reform, the longer the wounds with Latino voters will take to heal. We’ll simply quote from that RNC after-election autopsy report from March 2013: “[W]e must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

Obama makes it official, Boehner responds that the American people don’t trust him to enforce the laws

President Obama officially announced on Monday immigration reform’s death. “I believe Speaker Boehner when he says he wants to pass an immigration bill,” Obama said from the White House. “But last week, he informed me that Republicans will continue to block a vote on immigration reform at least for the remainder of this year.” As a result, he added, the Obama administration will take executive action (wherever it can) on immigration policy. Boehner responded, "In our conversation last week, I told the president what I have been telling him for months: the American people and their elected officials don't trust him to enforce the law as written. Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue.” But this argument is tough to defend since if this were a sincere reason for the House GOP, they could simply write the law in such a way that it wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 20, 2017, right?

A week later, the White House is loving the politics of Boehner’s lawsuit against Obama

Of course, yesterday’s back-and-forth over immigration comes just a week after Boehner announced that the House would vote later this month to authorize a lawsuit against President Obama’s executive actions. And here is something that shouldn’t be ignored: The White House LOVES the lawsuit. For one thing, it gives meaning to the White House’s various executive actions. Earlier this year during the State of the Union, many of us proclaimed them simply playing “small ball.” But given this lawsuit, Republicans certainly don’t see them being small. In addition, the lawsuit only emphasizes the contrast that one branch of government is doing SOMETHING while the other branch is doing NOTHING. Bottom line: The White House sees a political opportunity here -- an opportunity that Republicans might not have seen coming. Would it surprise many if House Republicans quietly decide before the August recess that this lawsuit gambit is actually too politically risky for them in an election year?

Contraception as a Democratic wedge issue

Turning from the White House and Congress to yesterday’s big Hobby Lobby decision at the Supreme Court, we observed that Democratic candidates seemed more excited to talk about the Hobby Lobby case than immigration. Of course, one of main reasons is that the Latino vote will only be a factor in one Senate contest THIS November: Colorado’s. But women -- whether they live in Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, or Oregon -- are going to be the key voting bloc this year, and Democrats see the Hobby Lobby case and contraception in general as wedge issues with female voters. Indeed, back in our March 2014 NBC/WSJ poll, 48% of men said that employers should be able to be exempt from covering birth control on religious grounds, while 46% of them said they should NOT be exempt. By comparison, nearly six-in-10 women -- 59% -- said employers should NOT be exempt, versus 35% who said they should. Overall in that NBC/WSJ poll, 53% of all respondents said employers should not be exempt, and 41% said they should be exempt. It was in 2012 that Democrats first started capitalizing on the politics of contraception, and they continued that in last year’s gubernatorial contest in Virginia. If Democrats hold the Senate -- and we stress the word “IF” -- yesterday’s court decision could end up being one of the more important turning points. The party has been looking for a reason to rationalize a focus on contraception during this campaign year, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority gave it to them. Spend any time with your nose buried in crosstabs from today and 2010, and it is crystal clear this contraception issue has had a negative impact among women for the GOP.

Boehner: “When it comes to earmarks, we’ve kept our promise"

While Congress is on recess, House Speaker John Boehner’s office is out with a new video touting the speaker’s promise to ban earmarks. “When it comes to earmarks, we’ve kept our promise,” Boehner says in the video. “For the fifth year in a row, we’re doing appropriations measures without earmarks.”

Crossroads says it has reserved $20 million for fall TV spending

A spokesman tells First Read that Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads and its sister 501c4 group Crossroads GPS have reserved $20 million for fall TV ads. It stresses this is an initial buy and that it also will play in some House races. But here’s where it will spend (and note there’s just one Obama 2012 state):

American Crossroads

  • Alaska: $5.5M (Sept. 9 through Election Day)
  • Iowa: $3.11M (Sept. 9 through Election Day)
  • Montana: $1.68M (Sept 23 through Election Day)
  • TOTAL: $10.29M

Crossroads GPS

  • Arkansas: $2.54M (Sept. 2 through Election Day)
  • Louisiana: $2.12M (Oct. 7 through Election Day)
  • North Carolina: $5.1M (Sept. 30 through Election Day)
  • GPS TOTAL: $9.76M

“Kissing congressman” changes his mind, will run for re-election after all

Remember that married “kissing congressman” from Louisiana, Vance McAllister, who back in April said he wasn’t going to run for re-election after video of him kissing a staffer surfaced? Well, he has changed his mind and will run for re-election after all, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports. "Today, after consulting with my wife and family, I have made a decision to run for re-election for the 5th Congressional District. Without a doubt this decision comes after much thought and prayer,” McAllister said in a statement. “This district has been home to me and my family all of my life. I know the needs of this congressional district very well. I also know that this district needs a strong, conservative voice in congress. I plan to continue to stand up for our veterans, bring common sense solutions to our nation's problems and most importantly I will fight to get our fiscal house back in order." But he faces a couple of GOP opponents -- including a nephew of a “Duck Dynasty” star -- as well as one Democrat. The free-for-all “jungle primary” takes place in November, and there will be a December runoff if no one gets 50%.

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