Do House Republicans have political incentive to back immigration reform?

Liz Goodwin
Yahoo! NewsJuly 9, 2013
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Nearly two weeks after the Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill with the votes of 14 Republicans, House Republicans have so far not shown much interest in the bill.

House Speaker John Boehner repeatedly has said he will not schedule a vote on the Senate version of the bill, and will only bring other immigration reform proposals up for a vote if a majority of Republicans back them. Meanwhile, most of the House voted for a measure last month to defund President Barack Obama's deferred action program, which provides work permits for young unauthorized immigrants who came to the country as children not a promising sign for those boosting immigration reform.

Establishment Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., argued after Mitt Romney's defeat last November that the GOP is in a "demographic death spiral" and needs to pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for most of the country's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to reach out to nonwhite voters. But the average House Republican serves in a district that is 75 percent white, according to the Cook Political Report, which means they are not facing the same demographic reality that national candidates are. (The average House Democrat's district, by contrast, is just over 50 percent white.) Republican House members also must stave off primary challenges from the right, which makes supporting immigration reform seem even less politically palatable.

But a pollster backed by the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice argues in a new analysis that at least 14 House Republicans could become vulnerable in the short term if they eschew the legislation, possibly losing their 2014 re-election campaigns by raising the ire of the fast-growing Latino populations in their districts.

Latino Decisions Senior Analyst David Damore said his analysis counters the "conventional wisdom" that House Republicans have no electoral incentive to back immigration reform.

Damore identifies House Republicans who live in districts that have a Latino voting age population that is greater than the margin by which the member won his or her seat in 2012, or whose district was carried by President Barack Obama in 2012. Damore argues that these representatives could lose their seats if the Hispanic population in their districts mobilizes against them on the issue of reform.

The 14 Republicans include Rep. Randy Weber of Texas and Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado, whose districts are both 20 percent Hispanic. Rep. Gary Miller of California, meanwhile, represents a district in which 44 percent of voters are Hispanic.

Reps. Jackie Walorski, Mike Coffman, Daniel Webster, Tom Reed, Jeff Denham, Steve Southerland, Michael Grimm, Joe Heck, Chris Gibson, Robert Pittenger and Vern Buchanan are the other House Republicans identified as vulnerable in the analysis.

Service Employees International Union Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina told reporters on Tuesday that the union, which backs immigration reform, will target many of these Republicans with Spanish-language radio ads in their districts. "Their decision will have profound consequences for the Republican Party for the short and the long term," Medina said.

Boehner is meeting with his caucus on Wednesday to discuss immigration reform.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Rep. Gary Miller.