Deputy Irish PM Eamon Gilmore in U.S. to lobby House members over immigration reform
Pundits agree that the House will be a tougher fight than the Senate
The Tánaiste and Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore arrived in Washington D.C. on Thursday July 11th, the day after House Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting to determine their response to the passage of S744, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate two weeks ago.
The bill passed by a comfortable 68 to 32 majority after the addition of the Hoeven-Corker amendment, which among other things increases spending and enforcement on the border, a move seen as crucial in securing the 14 Republican votes garnered by the bill. The focus now lies squarely on the House of Representatives where members are still scrambling to respond to the Senate proposal.
Unlike the Senate the House is controlled by Republicans who command a 224 member majority in the 435 member chamber and any would-be bill must not only secure 218 votes to pass but must also jump over a Republican internal hurdle known as the Hastert Rule. While not constitutionally mandated the Republican Party abides by its own rule that dictates that no bill will even be brought to the floor for a vote if ‘a majority of the majority’ does not support it. In other words Speaker Boehner will kill any bill if it does not have the support of the Republicans as a whole. In this context all eyes are on Republicans as they grapple among their own rank and file with how to respond to the Senate’s sweeping immigration bill.
As yet there has been no clear or demonstrable strategy outlined by Republicans, except to say that they firmly reject the proposal that has come out of the Senate and that they plan to produce their own bill or bills. Nothing operates in a vacuum and immigration reform is being played out in the context of Republican internal politics. Despite a strong coalition of Bibles, Badges and Business (churches, law enforcement and chambers of commerce) calling for immigration reform some Republicans are arguing that it is just not an issue for constituents in their home districts and as such they do not see the need to rush to a vote
Even this has its context when one examines the gerrymandered electoral boundaries of the 435 Congressional Districts. Of those 435 seats only 28 are seen as a toss-up between Republicans and Democrats; in other words lines have been drawn so well on the map that most Republicans are in safe districts and worry more about a right wing contender from their own party in a primary run off than they do a Democratic opponent at a general election. Those in the Tea Party right wing of the Republican Party are loathe to any mention of immigration reform, which they see as amnesty for people who broke the law by coming here illegally.
However the party leadership knows only too well that their national aspirations and chances of retaking the White House depend on passing immigration reform and appealing more to the growing Hispanic electorate. ‘Elections have consequences’ is an oft heard phrase since the November presidential election, which swept President Obama to a second term on the backs of a growing Latino electorate. Latinos jumped from 5 to 11% of the voting public and fell 70 to 30 in favor of Obama. Republicans were widely viewed as being anti-immigrant in that election with their calls for the self-deportation o f the 11 million undocumented.
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