With midterm elections around the corner, and the 2016 presidential campaign season starting to kick into gear, Republican politicians are once again looking for a way to woo Latino voters to the ballot box in their favor. And one way they hope to draw in their votes is by looking south.
Some GOP leaders in Washington have hindered the party's relationship with the Hispanic bloc by comparing the current situation with the influx of Central American migrants as an “invasion” and passing legislation to accelerate the deportation of the unaccompanied children. Others, however, realizing the Latino vote cost them the White House in 2012, are making forays into Latin America in an attempt to connect with that vital demographic.
New Jersey Governor and prospective Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie will head to Mexico next month to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, strengthen business ties and talk to cultural leaders. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, another GOP presidential hopeful, will soon set off for Guatemala and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants Mexico to open its first-ever consulate in the Midwestern state.
Republican Congressional leaders have heavily criticized the administration of President Barack Obama for its handling of the so-called border crisis. Tens of thousands of migrants from the violence-plagued countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have arrived at the U.S.’s southern border in the last year, setting up what has been labelled as both a humanitarian and political nightmare.
Bucking the popular sentiments of the Republican-held House, Christie, Paul, Walker and some other potential presidential candidates are looking to build bridges rather than burn them with the Latino community with these Latin American sojourns.
“It’s become painfully obvious that these guys are thinking bigger than those in Congress,” Hector V. Barreto, who has advised every Republican presidential campaign since 2000, told the New York Times. “They really do need to disassociate themselves from the party in Washington.”
Christie’s trip, while officially billed as a trade and diplomatic mission, will be a high-profile foreign visit for a man who has little international affairs experience but looks to build on the Hispanic support that he holds in New Jersey. In his last gubernatorial run, Christie garnered 51 percent of the Latino vote.
Christie, who has been the most open GOP politician in terms of the border crisis and his White House hopes, said during a visit to Iowa in July that he would consider requests to help unaccompanied immigrant children who come to New Jersey, but would not encourage families to send them to his home state.
"I have great empathy for that situation," Christie told reporters when asked about the influx of immigrant children. "We'll take every request that comes based on its merits and make those decisions," he said, calling Americans an "empathetic people."
"We don't like to see people suffer," he added.
Paul is taking a different kind of trip to Guatemala.
Instead of courting local businessmen and political leaders, the Kentucky lawmaker will arrive in the Central American nation in mid-August with a team of Utah medical experts who will treat poor rural residents with eye problems, most of them cataracts. Paul will also meet with President Otto Pérez Molina to discuss the exodus of thousands of children from his country fleeing violence and coming to the U.S.
Meanwhile, immigration doesn’t appear to be major a talking point as members of the Republican National Committee meet this week in Chicago.
For all their success in making the administrative changes called for in the RNC's post-2012 election autopsy, including imposing strict new penalties on states that violate the party's nominating schedule, the party's members of Congress have not yet moved on its only policy recommendation on immigration.
"In order for our party to grow, we need to have a comprehensive response on immigration," New Hampshire Republican National Committee member Steve Duprey said. "Even though this session's been disappointing, I think there's still room for progress."
There was little to no talk Thursday at the RNC meeting about the recommendation made last year by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. It concluded that addressing the fate of the millions of people living in the United States illegally is essential to making the GOP more appealing to the younger and racially diverse voters who sided with President Barack Obama in 2012.
Republicans in Congress have been unable to come together themselves on the issue. Last week, a small number of unyielding conservatives delayed by a day an effort by House Republicans to pass a immigration bill — one far short of the recommended comprehensive overhaul — before the start of the annual August recess.
But for every RNC member who is frustrated by the failure of Republicans to agree on how to move ahead on immigration, there's another who call such failure is "irrelevant."
"Our party is trying to share insight and send it to policy makers," said former Michigan Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis. "There are a lot of RNC resolutions that never become law."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.