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July 30, 2014

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Immigration reform’s new fans

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Can Republicans find a way out of the political dead end they marched into during the 2012 campaign? Can President Barack Obama make his second term more productive than the final gridlocked years of his first? Can Democrats and Republicans in Congress relearn the forgotten art of compromise after years of angry polarization?

The answers may depend on how the new bipartisan plan for immigration reform fares in Congress.

The initial signs are promising. The senators leading the effort are among the chamber’s most practiced negotiators, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz. The Republicans who lead the House, where any immigration bill faces its most difficult test, haven’t denounced the plan, even if they haven’t immediately embraced it.

But the two most interesting players in the drama weren’t those inside-the-room deal-makers. Instead, they were two politicians whose role will focus largely on managing public opinion on the outside: on one side, Obama, and on the other, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Obama’s main challenge in this battle is to stay out of the way.

That won’t be as easy as it sounds. During his re-election campaign, the president promised to make immigration reform an early priority in his second term, and his aides have worked for months on a detailed legislative proposal that Obama had planned to unveil Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Instead, Democratic supporters of immigration reform asked him to hold back. A Schumer-McCain plan will be difficult enough to get Republican legislators to sign onto, they told him; an “Obama plan” would be dead on arrival in Congress.

Instead of acting as Mr. Inside, a role that brought him little success during the past four years, Obama’s role is to act as Mr. Outside — mobilizing public support, keeping pressure on Congress to move a bill forward and reassuring anxious Democrats that they’re getting a good deal despite the concessions Republicans will demand.

In a sense, Obama is playing the same role on immigration reform that he’s assumed in recent battles over tax rates and gun control. He’s not trying to negotiate the deal, as he often did during his first term. Instead, he’s seeking the mantle once conferred on Ronald Reagan, that of the nation’s great communicator.

Amid the crises of his first term, Obama told the New Republic in an interview published this week, he did a poor job of “communicating with the American people about why we were doing what we were doing.”

“And so I’ve been spending a lot of time just thinking about how do I communicate more effectively,” he said, “as opposed to just playing an insider game here in Washington.”

It will be tough for the president to resist the temptation to inject himself more deeply into the process, if only so he can claim credit for any results. But he’s already passed the first test: His relatively gentle speech in Las Vegas did no harm. He warned Congress about the need for action, noted the need for a clear path to citizenship and signed on to toughening enforcement, a key Republican demand. But he didn’t try to dictate the details.

That left Republicans without a lot to criticize about the speech. A Republican National Committee release Tuesday blamed Obama not for anything he said Tuesday but rather for his failure to pass immigration reform in his first term — as if the RNC wouldn’t have fought any such attempt tooth and nail.

Why is the GOP determined to turn itself back into a party that supports immigration reform after six years of spurning the idea?

“Elections,” McCain said with refreshing candor.

Republican leaders noticed that Mitt Romney might have won the presidency if he had run as well among Hispanic voters as George W. Bush did in 2004. And unless they act, their problem will get worse. The Pew Research Center has estimated that the number of Hispanic voters will double in the next 20 years, from 12.5 million to 25 million, and the GOP doesn’t want the bulk of those votes to go to the Democrats.

That’s where Rubio comes in. The Cuban-American son of immigrants is not only the GOP’s most prominent Hispanic; he’s also a hero of the Tea Party right for his uncompromising gospel of small government and free markets.

The Florida senator is already making the rounds of conservative talk show hosts, appealing to them to hold their fire and give the bipartisan effort a chance.

On Tuesday, he spoke with Rush Limbaugh, who had previously denounced the Schumer-McCain plan as amnesty.

Rubio promised to hold out for tough enforcement measures. And he said he was confident that, over time, many Hispanics would turn into Republicans.

The radio host practically swooned.

“What you are doing is admirable and noteworthy,” Limbaugh said. “You are recognizing reality.”

On that score, for once, Limbaugh was right.

The question now is whether Rubio can convince enough other conservatives that a bipartisan compromise is in their interest — and whether Obama can convince liberals that a compromise is in theirs.

Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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  1. I opine that the columnist's question was already answered. Senator Rubio already has convinced several bipartisan Senators to come onboard with his proposal before Senator Schumer rolled it out for national TV/consumption with the group in tow. President is trying to steal Rubio's [GOP]thunder on immigration just like he did in 2012 by passing an Executive Order on immigration.

    CarmineD

  2. Jeff:

    President Obama did not make immigration reform a priority in his first term. The GOP, thanks to Senator Rubio, did. When he/it [Rubio/GOP] did, President Obama pushed through an Executive Order, NEVER going the legislative route AT ALL. When the Senate, led by Rubio, put forth a bipartisan immigration plan for passage by the Congress, President Obama stole their thunder and glory. Threatening that if Congress did act soon, he [the President] would. Really? Presidential leadership or kabuki theater? Americans, of both parties, see right through the President's political motives. He's a day late and a dollar short on all the big issues affecting the US and Americans. He's been AWOL on Presidential leadership. Instead spending his Presidential time/efforts on the golf links.

    CarmineD

  3. There is no way Nevada's economy (government services) can withstand the impact of legitimizing the illegal invaders. We have more than 50,000 illegal students in CCSD and the teachers tell us K-12 is woefully inadequately funded. Washoe CSD wants half a trillion (state dollars I'm sure) to rehab and rebuild school buildings--now talk about ridiculous. We cannot afford to adopt illegal kids. American seniors and cold, hungry and doing without RX -- so the politicos at the federal level can shovel our money out to illegals and their kids.

  4. A million a year LEGAL immigrants have found the pathways to citizenship. We should void the rule of law so Obama can register 15 million illegal voters for Hillary?

  5. Jeff:

    I provided the facts on immigration and this President. I didn't expect you to like them.

    CarmineD

  6. BTW Jeff, some more facts to stick in your craw: The Nevada GOP this week came out in support of the bipartisan Senate immigration proposal.

    And Geraldo Rivera, you know that GOP Fox News conservative that liberals love to hate, is comtemplating a Senate run from the State of NJ. Go figure!

    CarmineD

  7. Who knows Geraldo Rivera could actually be the future GOP icon to win the White House.

    CarmineD

  8. REMEMBER THIS.........if legalization is given to 12 MILLION illegal aliens they will be eligible to bring their relatives into the U.S. 12 MILLION will turn into 50 MILLION or more!!!

    Complaining here does no good. DO SOMETHING.

    Help stop ANOTHER Amnesty:

    SUPPORT NUMBERSUSA: http://www.numbersusa.com

    Numbersusa is a grassroot organization with 1.3 million members, who lobbies in Washington D.C. against illegal immigration and they will show what YOU can do to help. Be sure to sign up for their e-mails that will let you know when the latest bills dealing with illegal immigration are being introduced and how YOU can make a difference! Support Numbersusa!

  9. The question is: ENFORCEMENT first. Any consideration of additional paths, long after the feds ENFORCE OUR LAWS. The only other thing that needs attention is revising and tracking TEMPORARY agriculture work permits--perhaps issue some ON A TRIAL BASIS to say 10,000 illegal K-12 graduates--who need to pay back the costs of their invasions.

  10. Carmine, we need to voice our concerns to politicos but we must allow them enough room to PLAY politics. The Dems have taken cheap shots misleading Reps that they'd win more votes by giving away the nation to illegals. So the Reps response is some of the learned rhetoric that the Dems eat up. In other words, the GOP platform may be for immigration reform. But what does that mean? Does that mean we'll outlaw "birth right" claims to citizenship and stop the Birthing Centers where illegals and vacationing people come here to give birth? Does it mean we'll end the chronic abuse by those here on guest work permits--so they have a kid here and claim "family reunification" to stay and bring in every distant relative?

  11. Roslenda:

    The US has always welcomed its borders to ALL immigrants who are worthy and willing of US citizenship. And it always will. The US Constitution guarantees human freedoms to all regardless of their place of birth and origin. That will not change. Immigration reform will merely formalize what we already know and do.

    CarmineD

  12. Jeff:

    Here's the facts on immigration reform and then Senator Obama. He killed it in the Senate in 2005-2007. How? Obama was in BIG LABOR'S pocket. When Senators McCain and Kennedy attempted immigration reform, Obama voted against it. Why? AFL-CIO, read Trumka, was and still is against the guest worker program. For all the obvious reasons. And Trumka convinced Obama, read twisted his arm, to water it down, or get rid of it. The Senate rejected both [water down/scrub]. Obama with the key vote refused to support the bill.

    Of note is that President Obama made no mention of the Guest Worker Program in his speech last week in favor of Immigration Reform.

    CarmineD

  13. "Obama with the key vote refused to support the bill."

    ...unless and until the bill scrubbed/watered down the Guest Worker Program. Obama's vote supported the measure to do so. BUT with that provision, the other Senators refused to support it and immigration reform died.

    CarmineD