GOP Hispanic Outreach Team Locked in Closet During SCHIP Debate?

02/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Remember that change of heart in Republican leadership following the 2008 elections, when Latino voters turned out in record numbers to vote for Democratic candidates? A number of notable Republican leaders and strategists had taken a stand and declared that the Party's handling of immigration had been deeply flawed and politically costly.

Well, if the raging debate this week over kids health care is any indication, the GOP's new Hispanic Outreach Team must be locked in the closet, bound, and gagged.

Here's what key Republicans have been saying since the election:

Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) explained, on Meet the Press:

[T]he very divisive rhetoric of the immigration debate set a very bad tone for our brand as Republicans...there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric...we're going to be relegated to minority status.

The Florida Senator's words were echoed by many others, from strategist Karl Rove to Senator John Ensign (R-NV), former chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who was quoted in The Hill saying:

"We have to reach out to Hispanics."

Yet in the first test of the Republican Party's new Latino outreach strategy, GOP leaders are reaching... for their old incendiary talking points.

As reported by National Public Radio today, Sen. Ensign and other Republicans are voicing strong opposition to provisions in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) bill that would allow legal immigrant children to access health care without a five year waiting period. His colleagues, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have already filed amendments to gut the provisions.

It is deeply troubling that, at a time of great national need, politicians seem to be playing politics with kids' lives. Almost as distressing is how quickly the GOP forgot the lesson they'd supposedly just learned.

Will the GOP take a cue from the Boy Scouts of America and let their Hispanic Outreach Team out of the closet?

Not likely.

This Thursday, an event at the National Press Club will feature luminaries from the anti-immigrant right, making the case for a renewed Republican anti-immigration strategy. Entitled "Immigration and the 2008 Republican Defeat," the event will feature Bay Buchanan, Jim Pinkerton, Peter Brimelow, and Marcus Epstein, and will chart a road map to take the GOP even further into the political wilderness.

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