|New York Senator Charles Schumer (Credit: Derek Storm / Splash News)|
New York Senator Charles Schumer is busy this week pushing for what we hope will be a successful comprehensive immigration reform bill as one of the so-called gang of eight bipartisan senators.
Along the way he’s sure to be casting a weather eye on the ways in which his actions now could eventually craft his political legacy, the great work he will be remembered for in decades to come.
As it stands he certainly has grounds for optimism. Schumer will almost certainly deliver a successful bill because the fact is that the Republican Party, which watched with slack jawed disbelief as Latino voters choose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 71 to 21 percentage points in the last election, desperately need him to.
Put bluntly, the GOP is facing political extinction if they further alienate Latino voters, who increasingly help decide our national elections.
There’s an old Irish saying, what you fear you find. After decades spent blasting “the illegals” from the floor of their national conventions, Republicans are suddenly astonished to find themselves needing a comprehensive immigration bill far more than the Democrats do. In fact, party elders realize, if they mess this up we may well be looking for them in the fossil records by 2050.
So with that in mind it was quite dismaying to watch Schumer surrender, without even a fight, to the kind of political horse-trading that the Clinton White House used to indulge in circa 1993, not 2013.
One of the reasons why the 2013 model of the GOP is going the way of the dodo bird is that the party platform no longer matches the landscape of fact. It hasn’t for years, frankly. You can legislate, govern and party like it’s 1999, but if the country moves on it will move without you.
The evangelical base that delivered victories for the Reagan era GOP simply doesn’t have the political chops that it used to. White evangelicals made up 26 percent of all 2012 voters (that’s up three percent from their turnout in 2004), but they still couldn’t push Romney over the top.
So the math is simple. Republicans desperately need the Latino vote.
That’s why it was especially disappointing to watch Schumer grasp defeat from the jaws of victory last week when he allowed Republicans to exclude long term gay and lesbian couples from the immigration reform bill.
It’s estimated there are at least 30,000 same-sex couples here who, if included in the bill, would have the same access to green cards and citizenship that opposite-sex couples enjoy. That seems fair. Who could protest that?
Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio protested it. The GOP rationale is simple -- we have deprived gays of equality under the law for decades. This is how we roll. If we prolong their pointless misery, in as insupportable a manner as humanely possible, they will remain a handy foil.
Yes, it’s cruel and yes it’s blatant pandering, but our evangelical base viscerally despise gays so if gays are included we will scupper the deal, they thundered.
But this should be seen for what it is now -- toothless bluster. The era when homophobia could be exploited for votes actually had an end date, 2004.
Now it’s a vote getter. The math has changed nationally, but the GOP is still partying and politicking like it’s 1999.
In the wood paneled echo chamber of Washington, D.C. things change at a much slower rate than elsewhere in the nation. So Schumer and the rest of the gang of eight really should get out more.
They should read the latest polls, too. Last week 64 percent of Latino voters said they supported including same-sex couples in immigration reform.
Even corporate America, the real barometer of social progress, agrees. Google, Apple, eBay, Goldman Sachs and almost 30 other Fortune 500 companies have all been pleading with the gang of eight to make a deal that includes gay families in the final bill.
Why? Because many of the best and brightest potential employees they are seeking will not move here if America treats them like second-class citizens. That leads to lost productivity and missed opportunities. It hurts these companies, and it hurts the nation’s economy.
As Senator Patrick Leahy said this week, you can’t say to one bunch of married people we like you and we’ll ensure you get your visas, but then turn to another group of married people and say, but we don’t like you and we’re going to discriminate against you.
The presumption in America is that all citizens are born equal. If that’s what we say, it’s how we should act.
By surrendering this argument before he even had it last week, Schumer caught a bad case of the reactionary horse-trading that has already pushed the GOP to the edge of the political abyss.
It would be tragic and infuriating if now – in the moment that could deliver the greatest triumph of his political career –Schumer instead follows them over the precipice into irrelevance too.