They held an emotional two-and-a-half-hour therapy session in the basement of the Capitol Wednesday morning, scores of them, and almost all angry old white guy career politicians from safe Congressional districts that apparently could care less about the fact there may never be another Republican president.
Led by Representative Steve King of Iowa, who has mocked and marginalized his own party's leadership on this issue, the goal of their angry get -together was simple. They wanted to let the Senate know that no matter how sensible immigration reform might be for the country and for their party nationally, the majority of House Republicans stand implacably opposed to anything that smacks of amnesty for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Why should a guy like Rep. Steve King care about the Latino vote, about the only Latinos he ever meets in his home District work in the kitchen of Taco Bell?
- Geraldo Rivera
One after the other, the members of the House Republican Conference came to the microphone to condemn what their big brothers in the Senate did in passing comprehensive bipartisan legislation. These hard-liners weren’t even going to cut any slack to the “dreamers,” the innocent immigrant kids brought here at a young age by parents desperate to give them a shot at a better life. “Once you start down that line (by giving the kids a break) you’re destroying the rule of law,” said the self-righteous Mr. King.
The Obama administration “cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate,” the caucus proclaimed in a joint declaration following their defiant parlay. Normally I like defiance. But this is more like Jonestown, a political suicide pact without the Kool-Aid.
The whole show makes House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and party leaders Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor look impotent; not to mention RNC Chair Reince Preibus and prominent conservative commentators Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. All those heavyweights came to the conclusion –following the Republicans' crushing defeat and the sweeping re-election of the unpopular Mr. Obama last November, winning over 70 percent of the Latino vote– that the fate of the GOP depends on broadening the party’s appeal to Latinos and other minorities.
But to the vocal majority of House Republicans, loyalty to their national party leadership is obviously secondary to their loyalty to a nativist ideology that since about 2005 has stymied the best efforts of two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to normalize the lives of this gigantic sub-species of immigrant Americans whose numbers equal the combined populations of New York and Los Angeles. It is a huge population, but the shadow it casts falls weakly in districts represented by opponents of immigration reform.
Those House Republicans are the heart of the opposition to the heavily negotiated bill that came out of the Senate with the hopes and dreams of millions of immigrants attached. The legislators who oppose the compassionate, but pragmatic Senate bill generally hail from congressional districts gerrymandered to achieve one crowning achievement, the re-election of the congressman from that district. Why should they feel any political, as opposed to moral concern for undocumented Latino immigrants? Their Districts are 74.5 percent white. Only one in nine of their legal residents is Hispanic.
These ‘safe’ Republican House seats exist to protect members from both sides of the aisle from the dangers of losing an election. They are stacked decks; districts drawn by compliant state governments that follow contorted lines designed to include as many loyal followers as creative geography allows. And both parties do it. House Democrats sit just as safe and smugly in their urban strongholds as House Republicans do in their Red State suburban and rural districts. Why should a guy like Rep. Steve King care about the Latino vote, about the only Latinos he ever meets in his home district work in the kitchen of Taco Bell?
So when King and his colleagues talk reform what they really mean is crackdown. Their proposed legislation is heavy with provisions to strengthen further the physical border with Mexico and to staff that rugged frontier with so many border patrol officers that they stand virtually shoulder to shoulder. It is the re-birth of the Berlin Wall. The anti-illegal immigrant cabal is so contemptuous of what they see as the sellout pro business-wing of their own party that one of their major efforts is to punish more harshly those employers who would hire undocumented immigrants. And those draconian punitive measures are all that these members will allow.
So please don’t kid yourselves. Whether or not President Obama rolls up his sleeves and starts twisting arms, or whether or not thousands fill the National Mall to advocate comprehensive immigration reform, nothing like the reforms advocates want will ever pass the House as long as it remains as it is currently constituted. And there will never be another Republican president.
Geraldo Rivera is currently host of "Geraldo at Large" on Fox News Channel (FNC), which is also nationally syndicated by Twentieth Television. Rivera recently celebrated 40 years in journalism.