Simple electoral math says that while it's theoretically possible for the
Republican Party to win a national election while losing 70 percent of the
Hispanic vote, it's politically out of the question. That's what happened to the
GOP in 2012. In postmortems of that loss, the party leaders agreed that
repairing relations with Hispanic voters was a party priority and the fastest,
most effective way to do that was to come up with an immigration bill, one that
was not especially punitive and one that offered a meaningful path to
In the Senate, a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" - four Republicans, four Democrats - produced a bill that was toughened further in negotiations with Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota.
One of the Republicans is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a favorite of tea party activists and elected with their support, but for whom enthusiasm has dimmed as he shows signs of moderation. Rubio is mentioned frequently for the 2016 GOP presidential ticket, but his biggest obstacle may be his own early supporters and their all-or- nothing approach to politics.
Rather embarrassingly, at each step of the drafting of the bill, Rubio felt constrained to express reservations that indicated - to the approval of the tea partyers in the Senate - that he might not support the final version. Ultimately, he backed the bill but not before going on the Senate floor and almost apologizing for his support.
The bill won a key procedural vote 68-32, easily clearing the now-requisite 60-vote supermajority hurdle.
The bill would seem to be everything the tea party says it opposes: It's expensive, $46 billion; doubles the size of the federal workforce on the border; calls for another 350 miles of Iron Curtain-like fencing; and places onerous new verification requirements on employers.
But the tea party is against anything that smacks of granting citizenship or providing provisional legal status, which the Senate bill does, in the latter case before all the border safeguards are in place, a key tea party demand.
The bill now heads to a less-than-warm reception in the House, where the tea party caucus is even stronger and where Speaker John Boehner says the members will not take up the Senate bill but come up with one of their own. The House does not have a single immigration bill; instead, it has a series of piecemeal measures. None of them offers a path to citizenship or a means of legalizing the status of the 11 million undocumented people already here.
If the GOP's strategy of winning back Hispanic voters was badly wounded in the Senate, the House looks ready to kill it altogether.
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