GOP must get its act together on immigration now or live to regret it later

Daniel Stein and Ali Noorani discusses the issues involved in the immigration debate


On immigration, voters in 2014, 2016 and beyond will judge Republicans on action, not intentions, and the window for action is closing.

As I said earlier this year, here in Fox News Opinion, it is not only politically imperative that Republicans get a comprehensive bill done this year and share credit for doing so, but that doing so is also consistent with their core ideals of promoting economic opportunity and preserving law and order.

To date, Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), has shown a singular ability to talk to all sides in the immigration discussion. For the sake of his party, his country and his own presidential prospects, it is incumbent upon him to get his party to sign onto a plan and get it through Congress before the summer Congressional recess.

Sen. Rubio has prudently pushed back against several attempts to rush the legislation forward without building support for his initiatives. The last effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws in 2007 was derailed by too many secret internal negotiations and too little external building of support for action with advocacy groups and the general public.


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Today, leaders face a supportive public and conservative advocacy groups that have moved from being opposed to neutral to supportive of comprehensive immigration reform. At this point, the job of selling the proposal to the public is best accomplished in tandem with the advance of the legislative process.

Sen. Rubio has insisted, and Democrats have agreed, to proceed through regular order. That’s the right course of action to getting a balanced bill that the public can support, but it will take time.

Getting a final product into legislative language, holding hearings and markups on it, and engaging in floor proceedings all take time. Then there are the routine delays that will happen as members propose changes, amendments, or just try to gum up the works through the multitude of dilatory procedures available in the Senate playbook.

The House can move legislation faster, but there is still a lot of sales work to be done within the Republican Conference. Any final product will need to get a significant number of GOP votes, as Speaker Boehner can’t afford to have the measure pass without a majority of his conference without putting his job at risk.

The House and Senate will only be in session for fourteen of the eighteen weeks before the August recess. Unlike earlier steps, the remaining work can’t happen over the phone or via email. Additionally, the government could hit the debt ceiling as early as May, which will undoubtedly take time away from an immigration push.

After August, the prospects for a deal look grim. It will likely be too close to campaign season for many members in Congress, and especially in the House, to take a vote as tough as the immigration bill.

Finally, President Obama has said that he stands ready to push for his own immigration bill if the efforts of the Gang of Eight in the U.S. Senate don’t move quickly enough. This may not preclude the possibility of getting a bill passed into law, but it would severely diminish any chance for Republicans to receive a share of the credit they would deserve if it succeeds.

Republicans have to ask themselves “if not now, when?” The world doesn’t offer many opportunities to catch lightening in a bottle. It is hard to imagine more favorable timing. 

The election has spurred much of the Republican base to pivot towards support. The bipartisan Group of Eight has the ball at this point and can drive the action. Just enough time remains to craft and sell meaningful legislation.

More and more Latinos become eligible voters every day, as the number of elderly white voters – a key Republican constituency – continues to dwindle. The GOP needs to start broadening the base soon, or else risk wasting away as its most reliable voters perish.

If this comprehensive immigration reform effort fails, Democrats have a politically potent alternative for immigration in 2014 and beyond: strengthen gains from 2008 and 2012 with Latino voters and demagogue Republicans for refusing to work with them. 

It could work quite well in November. 

Republicans don't have a backup plan. Plan B for Republicans is to take a beating at the ballot box on this issue for the foreseeable future. 

The GOP holds the keys to victory for themselves and the entire nation. Sen. Rubio should not miss his moment to help his party open the door.

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).