Reports reaching California from the Imperial Capital on the Potomac indicate that the Senate finally began work today (March 2) on an immigration bill to answer the flawed but fairly tough border security bill that the House passed last year. [Immigration Bills May Split Republicans: Bipartisan Call for Guest Worker Program at Odds With Push to Secure Borders, by Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, March 2, 2006]
To my amazement, I hear it's seriously argued inside the Beltway that the Senate can add a "guest worker" plan and that then Republicans will be able to sell the whole package in their districts this fall as "immigration reform."
Even some immigration reformers are said to be worried that legislation, if passed, might "defuse" the issue—at least temporarily.
Bryanna to Beltway (from years in California electoral politics and from living out here in immigration Ground Zero, the southern Central Valley):
It won't work.
The idea is a Beltway bubble, the sort of thing that happens when politicians spend too much time away from the grassroots socializing with donors.
More from Bryanna to Beltway—specifically to the GOP:
Not only will it not work—but YOU are in danger.
My antennae tell me that, nationwide, the Republicans are in more trouble now than at any point since they gained control of Congress in 1994.
Here's a tumbleweed in the wind:
Last week, California Republicans held their Spring Convention. Although it was completely devoid of substance, there were two telling events.
The first was an eye-opening speech by Governor Schwarzenegger containing this assertion:
"After all, we Republicans have a history of boldness. I love that. Abraham Lincoln struck down slavery. Teddy Roosevelt fathered the environmental movement. Dwight D. Eisenhower built the interstate highway. And Ronald Reagan tore down the wall and defeated communism." [Complete speech here.]
What's wrong with this picture? This: Republican accomplishments stop with the Reagan administration.
But 20 year-old triumphs have little to do with the problems of today.
The other event worth mentioning occurred early Sunday morning. Attendees awoke to find letters slipped under their doors—letters that urged voting members to blindly back the Governor's proposals and stop the rampant dissent in the ranks.
The rank and file Republicans were told to place party unity above principles.
Just two examples of conflicting principles: the Governor wants a $1 minimum wage increase and to appoint liberals to various judicial seats.
No wonder the rank and file are rampant.
And Schwarzenegger didn't even mention the word "immigration."
This in a state where it was recently reported that one-fifth of high school seniors don't speak English well enough to graduate—and don't see why they should.
Hmm… when you think about it, this seems to be the emerging theme of the new, improved GOP—what I've called "the Mehlman Monstrosity."
Thus, just two months ago, the Republican National Committee held their Winter Meeting amid similar conflict.
Randy Pullen, a committee member from Arizona, drafted a resolution asking the RNC to officially oppose all guest worker legislation.
The White House intervened (of course) and urged members to maintain party unity over principles and back the President blindly.
And they did…just like the members in California.
Recently, I asked Randy Pullen whether he thought the guest worker/ border security combo would go down well in Arizona. He said flatly:
"Of course, some [politicians] will want to spin it. It would hurt the credibility of Senator Kyl if he tried to spin it. Arlen Specter - who cares? If Kyl tried it here, he would immediately lose face in the party."
Lose face in the Party…meaning, with the rank and file Republicans.
The voters, as some like to call them.
Pullen is right. Let's look a few months into the future:
2006 Candidate: The new Guest Worker Program we passed this year will enable us to keep our economy growing with foreign workers.
Average Voter: My husband worked in construction for 15 years but lost his job to an illegal alien that was willing to work for half the wage.
2006 Candidate: Did I mention that it strengthens our national security?—if there is a foreign national in our country, we will know where they are.
Average Voter: I already know where they are…they're at my husband's old job site.
2006 Candidate: Once again, Republicans are solving the America's problems.
Average Voter: Funny, that's what George Bush the First said…just before we tossed him out of office.
George H. W. Bush lost his 1992 bid for re-election in spite of his 56% approval rating for one simple reason:
Rank and file, grass roots Republicans refused to support him after he broke his word and raised taxes.
And guess what? Inside the Beltway, raising taxes was universally praised as politically astute and the right thing to do.
But the Beltway was wrong.
Rosemary Jenks, the Director of Government Relations for Numbers USA, strikes me as one of the few people in Washington with a finger on the real pulse of the electorate.
She thinks a guestworker bill may well pass the Senate:
"The bottom line is that House Republicans understand that the public does not want amnesty, and that they do not support the importation of more foreign workers. The Senate, as usual, is clueless as to public feeling on this issue."
(Rosemary did mention that the Senate might get a better feeling come the November election! But that could be too late!)
As for the grass roots movement and their reaction, Rosemary was quite adamant that we would see a rebellion:
"I absolutely believe that passage of a guest worker/amnesty program (and any guest worker program the Senate passes will be an amnesty because it will allow current illegal aliens to apply for work permits, whether or not they are allowed to stay permanently—which, of course, they will do regardless of what the law says) will fire up the grassroots and have a major impact on the November elections."
Indeed—"a major impact on the November elections" which could bring about a Democrat majority in the House and possibly the Senate.
Rosemary is right, too. I can see this in my own email. I get a ton of email from self-proclaimed "Recovering Republicans." These are examples:
Paul Weyrich, political consultant extraordinaire and the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, sees the same writing on the wall:
"…if the e-mail and snail-mail traffic I receive is any indication, lots and lots of people are telling me they do not intend to vote in the 2006 election. Others are saying they will vote for third-party candidates." [Take Heed Republicans—The Alarms Have Been Sounded, February 20, 2006]
Weyrich cites immigration as the issue that is splitting the GOP, specifically the guest worker amnesty plan.
"The President is insisting upon a link between securing the borders and having some sort of guest-worker program. In theory he may be correct. But conservatives want none of it until we have a handle on illegal immigration."
The White House should be careful. There is more at stake here than losing a Republican majority.
President Bush could face impeachment.
Paul Weyrich is one of the few willing to say it—but he says it convincingly:
"I am here to tell you that if Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is Speaker of the House come next year George W. Bush will be impeached. It just takes a majority."
You see, unity is a powerful argument to Republicans. They are, as Dick Morris has said, a hierarchical party.
But betrayal is a powerful issue in Republican politics too. And the Guest Worker Amnesty legislation betrays all known Republican principles.
An example of how betrayal motivates the rank and file:
In 1995, Republicans in the California Assembly achieved a one-vote majority…until Democratic speaker Willie Brown convinced Paul Horcher (R-Diamond Bar), Doris Allen (R-Cypress) and Brian Setencich (R-Fresno) to vote with the Democrats.
Horcher cast his vote to keep Willie Brown as Speaker…the enraged Republicans had him recalled.
Allen was elected Speaker. The enraged Republicans organized a recall election in her district as well. She resigned and handed the reins over to Setencich.
Republicans rallied and…you guessed it, had Setencich recalled.
I had the pleasure of working the campaign that unseated Setencich. I will tell you, I have never seen Republicans so organized and focused. And I have worshipped Curt Pringle ever since.
The GOP has nothing to sell this year. (Iraq, anyone?) I hope they don't see a guest worker amnesty as a selling tool.
Betrayal…nothing calls a rank and file Republican to arms faster than a duplicitous politician.
Let the White House and GOP Senate leadership—and the California Republicans—pass guest worker legislation and find out for themselves!
Bryanna Bevens [email her] is a political consultant and former chief of staff for a member of the California State Assembly.