Im­mi­gra­tion used as test of bi­par­ti­san­ship

Democrats tell vot­ers about GOP grid­lock

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

The Se­nate’s im­mi­gra­tion bill is dead on Capi­tol Hill, but it lives on in cam­paigns across the coun­try, where Democrats call it a key lit­mus test of Repub­li­cans’ bi­par­ti­san cre­den­tials.

From Ge­or­gia to Iowa and Alaska, Democrats are turn­ing the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate from a ques­tion of le­gal­iza­tion and amnesty into a de­bate over will­ing­ness to cross party lines on tough is­sues — and say Repub­li­can can­di­dates who op­pose the Se­nate bill have shown they can’t be trusted to work in a bi­par­ti­san man­ner.

“With dis­gust at Wash­ing­ton at an all-time high, or low, de­pend­ing on how you look at it, I think it makes sense for Democrats to re­mind vot­ers as much as pos­si­ble that if the Repub­li­can Party wasn’t dom­i­nated by a bunch of ex­trem­ists, Congress could do much more to help ad­dress the prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try,” said Jim Manley, a Demo­cratic strate­gist.

In Ge­or­gia, Michelle Nunn has tried to do just that in her face-to­face show­downs with busi­ness­man David Per­due, a Repub­li­can who said he would have voted against the Se­nate im­mi­gra­tion bill.

Ms. Nunn touts her support of the “bi­par­ti­san com­pre­hen­sive leg­is­la­tion” as proof that she is more in­ter­ested solv­ing prob­lems than toe­ing a party line.

“This is prob­a­bly one of the sharper con­trasts that you will find be­tween David and my­self,” Ms. Nunn said in a can­di­dates fo­rum. “I think David em­braces what I be­lieve is the at­ti­tude of grid­lock in Wash­ing­ton that has not en­abled us to get this done.”

Weeks be­fore Elec­tion Day, Democrats are re­ly­ing on that same mes­sage in hopes of de­fend­ing the Se­nate.

“The ref­er­ence to bi­par­ti­san­ship, I think, is both an at­tempt to en­cour­age His­panic turnout and it is an at­tempt to reach in­de­pen­dents,” said Den­nis Gold­ford, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Drake Univer­sity.

Mr. Gold­ford said part of that ar­gu­ment is par­tic­u­larly true in Iowa be­cause in­de­pen­dents out­num­ber Democrats and Repub­li­cans.

The is­sue sur­faced in the first Se­nate de­bate in Iowa, where Rep. Bruce L. Bra­ley, a Demo­crat, ques­tioned whether state Sen. Joni Ernst, a Repub­li­can, would have joined the Repub­li­can ar­chi­tects of the bill.

“The Bra­ley cam­paign has con­trasted Bra­ley’s bi­par­ti­san ac­com­plish­ments against Ernst’s ob­struc­tion­ism,” said Jeff Link, who is ad­vis­ing the Bra­ley camp. “This is another is­sues where that frame works.”

Repub­li­cans, though, say it is Democrats who would add to the po­lar­iza­tion be­cause they would be a rub­ber stamp for Pres­i­dent Obama and Se­nate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat.

“I don’t know about y’all, but I am get­ting a lit­tle bored hear­ing this, ‘I am go­ing to work across the aisle,’ when no­body on the Demo­cratic side has de­cided they want to work across the aisle with Repub­li­cans in the United States Se­nate,” Mr. Per­due said this week in a de­bate, be­fore ty­ing Ms. Nunn to Mr. Obama. “You say you want to be a team builder, a con­cil­ia­tor, but you will not bite the hand that feeds you.”

Ford O’Con­nell, a Repub­li­can Party strate­gist, said Democrats are shuf­fling away from Mr. Obama.

“They are look­ing for any way out from get­ting slammed as be­ing a pack mule for Pres­i­dent Obama’s poli­cies,” Mr. O’Con­nell said.

Christy Seltzer said Democrats — es­pe­cially those in red states — are try­ing to per­form a “del­i­cate two-step” of as­sur­ing in­de­pen­dent vot­ers that they are will­ing to work across party lines and re­as­sur­ing their base that they are “one of them.”

“But on the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue in states with a high per­cent­age of Latino vot­ers, that cal­cu­lus changes — pro­mot­ing your bi­par­ti­san­ship when the other side con­sid­ers im­mi­grants as crim­i­nals, to me, doesn’t seem like a win­ning strat­egy,” she said.

The 2013 im­mi­gra­tion bill marked one of the high points of bi­par­ti­san­ship in the Se­nate.

The bill was drafted by a bi­par­ti­san “Group of Eight” se­na­tors with four Repub­li­cans — John McCain of Ari­zona, Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Ari­zona and Marco Ru­bio of Florida — and four Democrats — Charles E. Schumer of New York, Richard J. Durbin of Illi­nois, Michael F. Ben­net of Colorado and Robert Me­nen­dez of New Jersey.

When it was in­tro­duced, Mr. Ru­bio, who has since walked away from the bill and is ey­ing a pres­i­den­tial run, lamented at a press con­fer­ence that it was “tragic that a na­tion of im­mi­grants re­mains di­vided on the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion.”

The bill went on to pass the Se­nate, with 14 Repub­li­cans join­ing ev­ery mem­ber of the Demo­cratic cau­cus.

But the mo­men­tum faded in the House, where Repub­li­can lead­ers re­fused to act on a sim­i­lar pro­posal. That drew fierce op­po­si­tion from tea par­ty­ers and con­ser­va­tives inside and out­side Congress.

Good will has evap­o­rated even among Repub­li­cans. Mr. Gra­ham said Mr. Ru­bio’s re­luc­tance to stick by the bill shows he is too green to be pres­i­dent.

“He’s a good guy, but after do­ing im­mi­gra­tion with him — we don’t need another young guy not quite ready,” Mr. Gra­ham told The Weekly Stan­dard. “He’s no Obama by any means, but he’s so afraid of the right, and I’ve let that go.”

The fo­cus of the de­bate on Capi­tol Hill, mean­while, has shifted to the un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren who have been pour­ing into the coun­try, as well as grow­ing con­cerns — par­tic­u­larly in Repub­li­can cir­cles — about whether Mr. Obama will uni­lat­er­ally grant “amnesty” to more il­le­gal im­mi­grants after the elec­tion and whether ter­ror­ists are slip­ping into the coun­try un­de­tected along the na­tion’s por­ous bor­der.

But on the cam­paign trail, Democrats have been busy talk­ing about the Se­nate im­mi­gra­tion bill and rat­tling off names of Repub­li­cans who they said stood shoul­der to shoul­der in the fight.

Sen. Kay R. Ha­gan, North Carolina Demo­crat, re­minded vot­ers in a de­bate this week with state House Speaker Thom Til­lis that she stood with Mr. McCain and Mr. Gra­ham to support the “bi­par­ti­san” bill.

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska ques­tioned how his chal­lenger, state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Dan Sul­li­van, would not get be­hind a bill that re­ceived the support of Mr. Ru­bio, as well as Sens. Dean Heller of Ne­vada, Kelly Ay­otte of New Hamp­shire and Or­rin G. Hatch of Utah.

“This is the kind of leg­is­la­tion that my op­po­nent says never hap­pens,” Mr. Begich said. “Repub­li­cans work­ing with Democrats found common ground.”

In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall, a Demo­crat, took aim at Repub­li­can Rep. Cory Gard­ner’s op­po­si­tion to the bill.

“There is sit­ting in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives a com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion bill re­form pack­age that passed with almost 70 votes in the United States Se­nate. It has bi­par­ti­san support,” Mr. Udall said in a de­bate with Mr. Gard­ner.

“Con­gress­man Gard­ner says he be­lieves in im­mi­gra­tion re­form, but he hasn’t lifted a fin­ger to move it in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” Mr. Udall said.

Mr. Gra­ham, Sen. La­mar Alexan­der of Ten­nessee and Susan M. Collins of Maine are the only three se­na­tors up for re-elec­tion who sup­ported the bill. They now ap­pear to be cruis­ing to vic­tory.

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