Right-Wing Gets Its Way On Immigration Reform

Right-wing radio has been urging Speaker of the House John Boehner to back away from the immigration reform guidelines he had outlined last month -- this week he cowed to their demands, prompting The Wall Street Journal to highlight his fear of a talk-radio backlash.

Boehner Accused Of Caving To Right-Wing Radio By Backing Away From Immigration Reform

January 30: Boehner Proposed A Set Of Immigration Reform Principles. During a news conference on the annual House GOP retreat, Boehner distributed a two-page list of immigration reform principles for his party to consider. From The Washington Post:

House Republican leaders said Thursday for the first time that they would be open to allowing the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants to live and work legally in the United States, but they emphasized that most would not be offered a “special path” to achieve citizenship.

The announcement was made at a GOP retreat in Cambridge, Md., where Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) distributed a two-page list of broad immigration principles to his membership for private discussions. The document represented the leadership's first attempt to outline a vision for how to address an overhaul of border control laws, seven months after the Senate approved a far-reaching bipartisan plan in June.


The release of the immigration principles was viewed on Capitol Hill as a test by Boehner to gauge the appetite of his caucus, and conservative pundits and donors to tackle a big, risky legislative initiative in an election year in which Republicans believe they have a chance to pick up seats in the House. [The Washington Post1/30/14]

February 6: Boehner Backed Away From Immigration Reform. One week after outlining House GOP leadership's vision for immigration reform, Boehner abruptly announced that “it's going to be difficult to move any immigration reform legislation,” blaming mistrust in the Obama administration. From The Los Angeles Times:

Just a week after House Republicans breathed new life into chances for an immigration overhaul this year, Speaker John A. Boehner all but abandoned the effort Thursday, saying it would be “difficult” to get any legislation approved.


Realizing once again that he may be unable to move his majority, Boehner lowered expectations Thursday, backing away from an effort that had been central to his party's broader strategy to win Latino and minority voters. [Los Angeles Times2/6/14]

Wall Street Journal: “House GOP Fear Of A Talk-Radio Backlash” To Blame For Failure To Move On Immigration. The Wall Street Journal accused Boehner of abandoning immigration reform efforts out of “fear of a talk-radio backlash”:

But conservatives and the GOP are as responsible for the failure on immigration. The populist wing of the party has talked itself into believing the zero-sum economics that immigrants steal jobs from U.S. citizens and reduce American living standards. Neither claim is true, but Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and the Heritage Foundation might as well share research staffs with the AFL-CIO.

So great is the House GOP fear of a talk-radio backlash that it won't even pass smaller bills that 75% of Republicans agree on. There will be nothing to codify the legal status of children of illegal immigrants who have lived here for decades. And no expanded green cards for foreign graduates of U.S. colleges, a policy Mitt Romney endorsed. And no cleaning up the work-visa morass that has obliged U.S. farmers to hire illegals to harvest their crops. [The Wall Street Journal2/6/14]

Right-Wing Radio Had Been Threatening GOP To Abandon Immigration Reform

Rush Limbaugh: “Amnesty Is The Mother Of All Scams.” On the January 30 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh spoke about House Republicans immigration proposals and disparaged immigration reform, which he labeled “amnesty,” as “the mother of all scams.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show1/30/14

Limbaugh: “If There Is Amnesty, Folks, It's The End Of The Republican Party.” On the January 30 edition of his show, Limbaugh said that immigration reform would signal “the end of the Republican party,” and argued that Republicans supporting it would “preside over their own demise” because of personal monetary gain. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 1/30/14]

Mark Levin: “There's Nothing Humane Or Compassionate About Participating In The Destruction Of Your Society.” Mark Levin likened immigration reform to “the destruction of your society” and “the unraveling of your society” on the January 30 edition of his radio show. He smeared House Republicans' proposed principles, saying “there is nothing humane or compassionate” about it and arguing that “this is not a civil rights issue.” [Cumulus Media Networks, The Mark Levin Show, 1/30/14]

Sean Hannity: GOP Is Out Of Touch If They Want To Push Immigration Reform. On the February 4 edition of his radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity cited the Republican proposals on immigration as why “I keep saying we need new leadership in the House.” He said of House GOP members, “The fact is they are out of touch with a big part of their base” for supporting immigration reform. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show2/4/13]

Laura Ingraham: Republican Politicians Supporting Immigration Reform “Are In Violation Of Their Oath Of Office.” During a discussion with Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) on the February 4 edition of her radio show, Ingraham told him that “we don't want any bill,” adding:

As far as I can tell, any Republican who stands up and says 'we're going to give a special pathway to the people who are here illegally' are in violation of their oath of office. That is my take on it. And I think we have millions of people across the country who are ready to throw all of you out of office unless you stand up for the American worker. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show2/4/14]

Ingraham: “Allowing These People To Remain In The United States” Allows Children To Be Raped And Killed. On the February 5 edition of her radio show,  Ingraham suggested that allowing young, undocumented individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the United States allows children to be “raped at the hands of illegal immigrants” and killed. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show2/5/14]

Yet Polls Show Majority Of Republican Voters Support Immigration Reform

Fox News Poll Found That 60% Of Republican Respondents Back Citizenship. A January 2014 Fox News poll found that among Republican respondents, 60 percent support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  [Fox News Poll, January 2014]

GOP Pollster: “Two Thirds [Of Republican Primary Voters] Will Support A Path To Citizenship As Long As The Conditions Are Strict And Rigorous.” In an August 2013 interview with The Washington Post, “respected veteran Republican pollster” Whit Ayres said that the majority of Republican voters do support immigration reform, and want to see something done on the issue:

Whit Ayres is a respected veteran Republican pollster who has done extensive research and polling on immigration reform and what GOP primary voters really think of it. He tells me in an interview that much of the conventional wisdom is wrong: Republican voters do support immigration reform -- including a path to citizenship -- albeit with the proper conditions attached. Indeed they want to see something done.

“Our research has shown that roughly one third of Republican primary voters will never support a path to citizenship no matter what the conditions,” says Ayres, a supporter of reform. “But two thirds will support a path to citizenship as long as the conditions are strict and rigorous.”

In the interview, Ayres got at a key point that keeps getting lost in the discussion. While some polls do show Republicans oppose a path to citizenship, other polls -- ones that present the range of policy options in a more accurate manner -- find they support it. For instance, if polls ask respondents to make a straight choice -- do they favor citizenship, Yes or No (as the Post poll does) -- a majority of Republicans say No. But when polls tell respondents that citizenship comes packaged with increased border security and/or conditions attached, a majority of Republicans supports it. This is true in polling from Quinnipiac and National Journal, both of which find at least six in 10 Republicans supportive. [The Washington Post, 8/5/13]