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Cantor's Immigration Obstructionalism

05/02/2014 08:48 pm ET | Updated Jul 02, 2014

When looking for hollow words in Washington, there is certainly no lack; Eric Cantor (R-Virgina), however, has been an absolute fountain of shallow rhetoric, poorly disguising his ambition for higher office. Looking to the GOP House leadership and the once-again hot topic of immigration, while Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) hasn't put it to a vote, he at least came out and pushed for immigration reform within his caucus. Cantor, meanwhile, wants only to do nothing, quietly remaining in the Majority Leader seat and staying friendly with the base until Boehner is either voted out or retires.

While Cantor is young in congressional years and is playing smart long-term politics, it is also laughably transparent, and his arguments for not pushing for real immigration reform are wearing thin.

During a speech at a Rotary Club that sounded a lot like his "are you kiddin' me?" response to outside organizations pushing for the 2013 government shutdown, Speaker Boehner said of his caucus, "Here's the attitude [on immigration]: 'Ohhhhhhh, don't make me do this. Ohhhhhhh, this is too hard.' You should hear them." For this he has received the harshest criticism from people like Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who claimed he was "declaring war on the tea party."

Gohmert is, quite frankly, one of the people throwing every available monkey wrench in the gears of immigration legislation, and he's an example of one of the people Cantor is trying too hard to please: In the same interview he claimed that the U.S. has an obligation to reform immigration only after the border is secured, but he rejected the Gang of 8 bill with the "border surge" that would have spent billions on vastly expanding border security to an almost comic degree when it was up for a vote.

Boehner's previous "are you kiddin' me?" outburst was most likely targeted at the Heritage Foundation, a powerful D.C. think tank led by former Sen. Jim DeMint that has consistently come out with statements pushing legislators toward the government shutdown. His latest comment was most likely directed against Republicans like Cantor, who, from his position of leadership, has encouraged House Republicans to do nothing.

While Cantor has paid some lip service to immigration while at events with pro-immigration groups, like at his recent meeting with the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, he has done nothing else to advance it.

Cantor didn't put immigration on the legislative memo to House Republicans, which outlines legislative priorities for the spring. He sided with Steve King (R-Iowa) in voting to defund Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Obama's executive-order version of the DREAM Act. His most significant contribution to the immigration debate (other than "no") has been the KIDS Act, yet another watered-down DREAM Act, like the ARMS Act and STARS Act, that ignores the vast, vast majority of the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants we have in this country. (Cantor's version even takes steps to prevent those benefiting from the KIDS Act from ever being able to apply for their parents' status, even through existing channels.) He voted to build a border fence, and he voted voted to support the Minute Men, an armed border militia patrolling against undocumented immigrants, amongst other actions that indicate he has no inclination to take real steps toward fixing our broken immigration system.

This is No. 2 in the House, and No. 1, Boehner, is already bombastically pushing for immigration reform.

Looking toward the GOP-controlled House, which denied a vote on the Gang of 8 legislation that was passed with 68 votes in the Senate, it is obvious that therein lies the problem: The House cannot be moved to a vote because Boehner cannot wrangle the political pressure within the House, and Cantor undercutting any serious effort at reform is not helping. Cantor is a continuation of the extreme gridlocked politics we have seen and lamented for years, a man who puts pleasing the base long before effective governance.

It is understandable that a Republican politician does not want to see headlines on Breitbart.com or The Daily Caller denouncing him as "The New 'Mr. Amnesty'" if he so much as expresses approval for a military bill that rewards undocumented immigrants for enlisting in the military (the ENLIST Act). Eric Cantor, however, in an attempt to stay in the good graces of his base, has abdicated all responsibility to govern and has towed the tea party line to avoid a tough primary or losing his No. 2 position in the House.

Not addressing any issue of controversy, or immediately running as far right as possible on any issue the tea party is paying attention to, has become the safe thing to do ever since "primary" became a verb. Being primaried by someone with nothing to lose who can run as far right as possible is a legitimate fear for Republicans. We expect difficult decisions to be made by our leaders, but Cantor's leadership has made it more difficult to get anything done, especially on immigration. It's obvious that he is interested in only looking like he cares to the majority who want immigration reform, while working for small population of tea party primary voters who are afraid of demographic change, see immigration as a threat and come out to vote often.