THE BLOG
10/25/2013 08:29 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Four Reasons Why Shutdown Battle Increases Odds of Passing Immigration Reform

Yesterday, President Obama renewed his own push for passage of comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

Portions of the pundit class continue to believe the immigration reform is barely hanging on life support. In fact, in the post-shutdown political environment, there are four major reasons to believe that the odds of Congressional passage of immigration reform have actually substantially increased:

Reason #1. The extreme Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has been marginalized. That is particularly true when it comes to the efficacy of their political judgment. For those Republicans who want to keep the Republican Party in the majority - or who occupy marginal seats and hope to be reelected -- it's a safe bet that fewer and fewer are taking political advice from the likes of Ted Cruz.

The Republican Party brand has sunk to all-time lows. In a post-shutdown Washington Post-ABC News poll, the percentage of voters holding unfavorable views of the Republican Party jumped to 67 percent. Fifty-two percent of the voters hold the GOP responsible for the shutdown, compared with only 31 percent who hold President Obama responsible.

And, of course, far from achieving their stated goal of defunding ObamaCare, they basically got nothing in exchange for spending massive amounts of the Party's political capital.

Increasingly, many Republicans have come to the view that taking political advice from the Tea Party crowd is like taking investment advice from Bernie Madoff.

And many Republicans are coming to realize that hard-core opponents of immigration reform like Congressmen Steve King and Louie Gohmert are just not attractive to swing voters - especially not to suburban women.The fear of being tainted by the Tea Party has grown among moderate Republicans and those in marginal districts.

All of that has lessened the extremist clout within the GOP House caucus.

And it should also be acknowledged that the "shutdown the government - to hell with the debt ceiling" crowd is not entirely the same as the "round up all the immigrants" gang. Immigration reform has a good deal of support among Evangelical activists that might share Tea Party tendencies on other issues. That's also true among a growing group of economic libertarians.

The business community provides most of the money to fuel the Republican political machine. And the business community - which very much wants comprehensive immigration reform (along with the Labor movement) - is furious with the Tea Party wing and is more ready than ever to challenge them - especially on immigration.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reports that:

Some big-money Republican donors, frustrated by their party's handling of the standoff over the debt ceiling and government shutdown, are stepping up their warnings to GOP leaders that they risk long-term damage to the party if they fail to pass immigration legislation.

Some donors say they are withholding political contributions from members of Congress who don't support action on immigration, and many are calling top House leaders. Their hope is that the party can gain ground with Hispanic voters, make needed changes in immigration policy and offset some of the damage that polls show it is taking for the shutdown.

Reason #2. House Speaker John Boehner emerged from the shutdown battle with his support in the caucus in tact.

At the beginning of the shutdown one Boehner aide was quoted as saying that the Speaker had to let his Tea Party wing find out that the stove is hot by touch it. That's exactly what Boehner did. Instead of just telling them the consequences of shutting down the government and threatening default over ObamaCare, he showed them. He let them run down their entire strategy, get nothing in return and suffer enormous political damage for their trouble.

Because Boehner stuck with the Tea Party wing to the bitter end, they joined in the standing ovation the GOP Caucus gave Boehner as he was negotiating the terms of surrender.

Had much of the rank and file caucus believed that Boehner sold them out in negotiations with the White House and Senate, he would have had a much more difficult time allowing the House to vote on a pathway to citizenship than is now the case.

Reason #3. Their handling of the shutdown left House Republicans with a desperate need to demonstrate that they have the ability to govern effectively. The polling and focus groups make it very clear that increasing numbers of swing voters think they do not.

If the GOP is tagged with responsibility for blocking common sense immigration reform that is supported by a wide majority of the voters, was passed with a robust bi-partisan majority in the Senate, and is supported by majority of House members, that will add mightily to the negative narrative about the GOP.

A July CBS News poll that asked about immigration found that 78 percent of people surveyed were in favor of providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. if they meet certain requirements, including a waiting period, paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal background checks and learning English.

It is hard to see how the Republican leadership can afford one more major, iconic instance is which it allows a small extremist minority to gridlock the government by preventing action to repair an immigration system that is universally believed to be broken.

Reason #4. Most important, the political outcome of the shutdown has generated a credible narrative that the GOP could, in fact, lose control of the House. Until the shutdown disaster, only a few true believers thought that was possible. Today, it is increasingly viewed as a real possibility.

As a result of the shutdown, the Cook Report changed its ratings on 15 House seats. Twelve more Republican seats were moved into the toss-up category, and three Democratic seats moved solidly towards the incumbents. Cook now views a Democratic takeover as a possibility.

The recent Washington Post - ABC poll found that Democrats now maintain a 48 percent to 40 percent lead among all voters in the mid-term Congressional elections. The conventional wisdom among political consultants is that once the generic lead exceeds 7 percent it is possible for Democrats to overcome the GOP's redistricting advantage and take control of the House.

But, of course what really matters is what happens in individual House districts. Public Policy Polling (PPP) recently conducted a survey for MoveOn.org in 36 swing Congressional districts with Republican incumbents. PPP found that, after the shutdown, Democrats could easily win at least 29. Democrats only need 17 seats to take control of the House. In virtually every district the shutdown was highly unpopular, and messaging about the shutdown increased the Democratic lead in the survey.

Plunging Republican fortunes helped Democrats raise record amounts of money in September and October. It also helped propel a number of top tier Democratic challengers into the race.

And just this week the death of Congressman Bill Young of Florida, and the announcement that Congressman Tim Griffin in Arkansas will retire, turn two additional districts into open, swing seats.

The possibility of losing control of the House is beginning to stare GOP strategists in the face. Do they really want to risk incensing a big block of Hispanic and other immigrant voters by blocking immigration reform, and energizing them to go out to vote in large numbers to punish Republicans for blocking immigration reform? Mid-term elections are more than anything else about turnout. They are about who shows up at the polls.

In 2010, motivated Republicans turned out -- and many voters who would cast their ballots for Democrats stayed home.

Motivating Hispanic voters to turn out in larger numbers in the mid-terms is a very bad idea for the GOP. Remember that in 2012 Hispanic voters cast 70 percent of their votes for Democrats.

It would be one thing if the GOP were only risking losses in a handful of districts. But massive Hispanic voter mobilization could be dispositive to the outcome of dozens of races while Democrats only need to win 17 to reclaim the Speaker's gavel.

In fact, a top Hispanic pollster, Latino Decisions, lists 44 GOP-held districts where it believes the Latino vote could be the deciding factor. There are probably more.

Bottom line: there is every reason for the GOP leadership to make the decision that it needs to give a comprehensive immigration bill with a path to citizenship an up or down vote on the House floor. If they do, the bill will pass. That would provide Republicans with a good example of bipartisan problem-solving for independent voters, avoid the political risks of mobilizing an incensed, increasingly Democratic Hispanic voting block, please GOP business supporters and -- according to independent economists -- boost economic output over the next two decades by about a 1.4 trillion dollars while reducing the federal deficit by almost a trillion.

You'd think this would be a no-brainer for the GOP. Could they be so stupid? Given the events of the last month, who knows? But even a mouse figures out how to find its way out of a maze after it has banged its head into the wall enough times. Now let's see if that's true of elephants.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

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