National GOP leader seeks Latino support in Chicago
The chairman of the Republican National Committee told a gathering of the nation's Latino public officials Saturday in Chicago that the GOP has done a "lousy" job reaching out to their community, but pledged that a new outreach campaign shows "we want to earn your trust and your vote."
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus also reiterated his belief in the need for a "comprehensive" immigration overhaul but acknowledged he's not a policymaker who can shape a plan for Republicans who control the House.
Priebus' appearance before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, holding its 30th annual convention at a downtown hotel, marked another step in the GOP's outreach efforts following an intensive study in the aftermath of the 2012 elections.
The visit also capped a week in which the Democratic-led Senate voted 68-32, with 14 Republicans in favor, for a comprehensive immigration plan that would increase border security while providing a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally but who meet certain conditions.
Priebus called his appearance before the group to discuss the subject "pretty historic." Still, House Republicans have said they will not take up the Senate-passed measure and will adopt a more deliberative, likely piecemeal approach. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democratic member of the so-called Gang of Eight bipartisan senators who agreed to the plan, is dubious.
"The step by step approach will never work. We tried it for years," said Durbin, reflecting concerns that some House Republicans will scrap provisions that would grant citizenship to qualified immigrants after 13 years.
Durbin, who appeared at the conference with Chicago Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, said Republican House Speaker John Boehner should move off his pledge to not call a vote on any plan unless it has the support of a majority of GOP members. Democrats contend the Senate measure would pass the House with the votes of a unified minority Democratic caucus and pickup GOP votes.
Speaking at a luncheon of several hundred people, Priebus said "even a casual observer" could see there is "growing diversity" in the GOP.
"I'll be honest here. In the past two years, we've done a pretty lousy job of connecting in the Latino community. We've missed out on opportunities to build better relationships. But that's going to change. We want to be a party that is more welcoming, more inclusive, more open," said Priebus, who is from Kenosha.
"I didn't come here to convert you," he said. "I hope that it's clear that we want to earn your trust and your vote."
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