Congressman Nathan Deal's perennial bills to end birthright citizenship often attracted over 100 co-sponsors or 22% of the House—yet the issue barely registered in the national consciousness. But when Lindsey Graham and five other Republican Senators—representing 6% of the Senate—discussed interest in considering birthright citizenship, it became headline news for weeks. (To be fair, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) had earlier introduced a resolution to end birthright citizenship with very little fanfare and no co-sponsors and it too managed to escape attention).
Generally, however, Senators are simply taken much more seriously than congressmen. Just a few of them willing to make a stink can completely shift public debate.
Unfortunately, there are very few Senators willing to make a stink. Other than Vitter, and the empty rhetoric from Graham and Co., Republican Senators are still refusing to get serious about birthright citizenship. None are dealing with asylum fraud or chain migration either.
Republican Senators do a fairly good job of stopping bad ideas from the Democrats. But they are not proactive. Numbers USA recently added a "Challenge the status quo" grade that gives low marks to politicians who do nothing about immigration. Vitter's C grade is the highest in the Senate in this Congress.
However, the influx of Tea Party candidates in the Senate races gives hope that this may change. So it's worth taking a close look at a few of these races.
Nevada: Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) vs. Incumbent Harry Reid (D).
Without a doubt, the Nevada race is the most significant. As Senate Majority Leader, Reid used his power to try to block even the most mild security measures such as reauthorizing E-Verify, while trying to force the DREAM Act amnesty to a vote, knowing his own party does not want it.
He's made wonderful statements, like saying that Republicans have "either taken leave of their senses or their principles" for taking up birthright citizenship; and telling a group of Latinos that he didn't "know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican." [1993 flip-flop: Sen. Reid introduced bill 'clarifying' birthright citizenship, by Kelly Picket, Washington Times, August 13, 2010]
Some 12% of Nevada's electorate is Hispanic and Reid has made it clear that his strategy is to turn out the Hispanic vote.
Angle has released two hard-hitting ads attacking Reid's record. One ad aired after Reid tried to force a vote on the DREAM Act:
"First Harry Reid votes to give special tax breaks and social security. Then Reid cheers as the President of Mexico slams Arizona's tough illegal immigration law. Now Reid has introduced a plan that gives illegal a pathway to amnesty and even special tuition rates with money coming at your expense.
"Harry Reid: the Best Friend Illegals Have Ever Had."
[Sharron Angle TV Ad: "At Your Expense", YouTube, September 23, 2010]
Unfortunately, Angle has done a little bit of pandering herself, by releasing Spanish language ads. Her "At Your Expense" TV spot featured images of people crossing the border, but when asked if they were Hispanic, she tried to claim that she was so-colorblind that she couldn't identify races, telling an audience of Hispanic students "Some of you look a little more Asian to me."
This has led to a flurry of attacks from Reid, the DNC, and Hispanic groups calling her insensitive or worse. [Harry Reid blasts Sharron Angle on 'Asian' comment, by Molly Ball, Politico, October 19, 2010]
This episode is a lesson to pandering Republicans everywhere. Angle should have said: "Virtually everyone who crosses the border illegally is Hispanic. The ad simply reflected that reality. If Hispanics who are here legally or are US Citizens feel stigmatized by the ad, they should blame the Hispanic illegal aliens who give them a bad name".
This would have been unimpeachably true and she would not be subject to ridicule.
On legal immigration, Angle filled out all of NumbersUSA's questions about reducing overall numbers and ending chain migration perfectly. Yet she's been silent on it in the campaign.
Despite these setbacks, if a virtual political novice can take down the Senate Majority Leader by attacking him on illegal immigration, it will send a huge message.
Kentucky: Doctor and Political Novice Rand Paul (R) vs. State Attorney General Jack Conway (D)
Rand Paul shocked the GOP Establishment and gave the Tea Party its first major victory when he beat Mitch McConnell-backed Trey Grayson in the Republican primary. While he is certainly much more willing to compromise than his father, Rand Paul still seems to echo his father on immigration. Paul deserves great credit for vocally opposing birthright citizenship. Prior to Graham's aforementioned semi-support for ending birthright citizenship, the fact that a Senate candidate championed the cause created a media firestorm and helped bring the issue to the forefront of the immigration debate, quite possibly forcing the establishment GOP to address it.
As a relative foreign policy non-interventionist still trying to appeal to Red State voters, Paul wisely puts border security and immigration restriction at the center of his National Defense platform.
"I believe our greatest national security threat is our lack of security at the border. On 9/11, 16 of 19 hijackers were here on 'legal' student Visas but were not in school or in the states they were supposed to be in … I propose a moratorium on Visas from about ten rogue nations or anybody that has traveled to those nations. I would keep this in place until our government proves they can manage intelligently our Visa process." [National Defense, Rand Paul for US Senate]
So where is Paul on a moratorium on legal immigration? He utters the usual platitude ("I support legal immigration and recognize that the country has been enriched by those who seek the freedom to make a life for themselves") and the usual naïve libertarian cliché ("Once [welfare programs] for illegal immigration are removed, the problem will likely become far less common") [Illegal Immigration, Rand Paul for US Senate]. So it's harder to tell.
My biggest concern with Paul: would he support E-Verify? His father is one of a handful of Republicans to oppose reauthorizing the program on libertarian grounds, much less mandating it. In the Senate, Republicans have admirably been unanimous in their support for reauthorizing E-Verify and requiring it for government contractors, so this might be the one issue where positive legislation might pass. But one dissenting Republican vote could give cover for moderate Democrats to peel away.
Democrat Jack Conway tries to stay as silent as possible on immigration. His website does not contain a peep about the issue. When pressed, he said he had "real concerns" over SB 1070 and "We have 12 million illegal immigrants in this country right now…The problem is we're not going to be able to round them all up and ship them away." [Democratic Senate hopefuls debate, Associated Press, May 7, 2010]
To his credit, Paul is attacking Conway on immigration. For example, when the DREAM Act came up, Paul made his opposition clear and then sent out a press release attacking Conway for his silence.
An October 19 Rasmussen Poll found Rand Paul five points ahead of Conway. If elected, Paul could help force issues like birthright citizenship to the forefront. But his silence on E-Verify is very worrying.
Arkansas: Congressman John Boozman (R) vs. Incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln (D)
Blanche Lincoln has about the worst record on immigration among Democrats in relatively conservative states, with a D grade from Numbers USA with an F- for increasing legal immigration and amnesty. Lincoln co-sponsored the DREAM Act, and voted for the 2006 and 2007 amnesty.
Lincoln does not have an immigration platform, but her "Latinos and Amigos for Blanche" website states "Senator Lincoln continues her support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the DREAM Act". She touts her A+ rating from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and her "Capitol Award from the National Council of La Raza." [Latinos & Amigos for Blanche, Blanche Lincoln for US Senate]
Lincoln is in big trouble, and in the last few months she has done a complete 180. She was one of only two Democrats to vote against cloture for the DREAM Act—which she co-sponsored—claiming to have procedural scruples. She was one of five Democrats to vote for Jim DeMint's motion to block Obama's lawsuit against Arizona.
In contrast, Numbers USA shows John Boozman tied for second place for the best immigration voting record, with 97% rating. He's co-sponsored bills to end chain migration, birthright citizenship, and the diversity lottery. In his ten years in office, his only bad votes were for Free Trade agreements with Singapore and Chile that included some guest workers.
In this election, Boozman's actual platform is disappointing. Despite his strong record on reducing legal immigration and birthright citizenship, it does not mention either issue. Instead, it proclaims: "We are a nation of immigrants and must remain welcoming to those who come to achieve the American Dream." It also does not use the word illegal alien or even illegal immigrants, instead using "undocumented immigrants." [Immigration, John Boozman for US Senate]. Nor does Boozman appear to be running ads or press releases on the issue.
Polls consistently show Boozman up by over 20%—which could make this race one of the biggest landslide against an incumbent Senator in history—so I won't say that Boozman needs to bring the issue up to win. Still, Lincoln's flip-flops demonstrate that she knows that her position is at odds with Arkansas voters and I don't see why Boozman wouldn't want to add a few more percentage points to his victory.
Florida: Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Marco Rubio (R), vs. Congressman Kendrick Meek (D) vs. Governor Charlie Crist (I).
In Florida, Marco Rubio—darling of both Tea Party and Hispanic Republicans—defeated Establishment-backed Crist and even more conservative former Senator Bob Smith in the Republican primary. Crist promptly rewarded the National Republican Senatorial Committee for supporting him by running against Rubio as an independent.
Both Crist and Meek are terrible on immigration. Meek has a career F grade from Numbers USA. His platform states:
"Kendrick is the only candidate who has consistently supported comprehensive immigration reform to provide a pathway to citizenship, secure our borders, uphold the rule of law, protect workers, and unite families. He firmly opposes the recent Arizona immigration law and would fight against any attempt to bring a similar measure to Florida. It is time to create a pathway to legalization for the nearly 12 million undocumented residents in the U.S. and provide them an opportunity to become tax-paying citizens and step out from the shadows of society." [Immigration, Kendrick Meek for US Senate]
While Crist pretends to promote a middle ground, his platform is nearly identical to Meek's—except he prefaces his support for amnesty by saying he's against it:
"Governor Crist is not in support of an amnesty program. Governor Crist supports immigration reform that provides an earned path to citizenship…Just imagine if these 14 million illegal immigrants became law abiding, tax-paying citizens and paid into the social security system how much better off America would be."
[Charlie Crist on Immigration, Charlie Crist: Independent for US Senate]
As I reported in an earlier piece on Rubio, there is good reason to be wary of him. He has indicated support for increasing legal immigration and as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives blocked half a dozen tough anti-immigration laws from coming to a vote. (To his credit, Rubio did support David Vitter's attempt to prevent illegal aliens from being counted for Congressional reapportionment in the Senate).
But Rubio's response to Arizona SB 1070 is both concerning and telling. After the bill passed, he objected,
"States certainly have the right to enact policies to protect their citizens, but Arizona's policy shows the difficulty and limitations of states trying to act piecemeal to solve what is a serious federal problem. From what I have read in news reports, I do have concerns about this legislation. While I don't believe Arizona's policy was based on anything other than trying to get a handle on our broken borders, I think aspects of the law, especially that dealing with 'reasonable suspicion,' are going to put our law enforcement officers in an incredibly difficult position. It could also unreasonably single out people who are here legally, including many American citizens. Throughout American history and throughout this administration we have seen that when government is given an inch it takes a mile."
[Marco Rubio, Arizona Law understandable, but goes too far, by Michael Thomas, Orlando Sentinel, April 27, 2010]
Shortly after Rubio made these comments, Arizona passed a few minor amendments to SB 1070 hoping to ward off the inevitable lawsuits. Jason Mattera of Human Events then interviewed Rubio, and found he had suddenly become a supporter of the law. The interview is worth quoting at length.
JM: Now that the Arizona legislature has amended the law so that police can only question a person's legal status if there's a lawful stop, detention, or arrest. Have your thoughts or feelings changed
MR: Well, I congratulate them on doing that… And the reason that [the law] was inevitable is because the federal government has failed to provide border security, has failed to provide a legal immigration system that works. [emphasis added]
"But right now, for the people of Arizona, this is not (from I gathered) [sic] this is not even an immigration issue. This is a public safety issue. And the fact is that Mexican drug violence has tragically crossed over the border and into an American state and American cities. So I congratulate them on taking steps to clarify even further the intent of the law.
JM: If you were in the Arizona state legislature, would you have voted for the law?
MR: The second one that passed hit the right note. Yes.
JM: The first time around, would you have?
MR: Well, I would have wanted to see changes like the ones that were made because I know that that's not the intent of the bill… Understand that what Arizona is facing is different from anything Florida has ever faced... Frankly, very few states in the country can imagine what that's like.
[Exclusive: Rubio Clarifies Critique of Arizona Law, Jason Mattera, Human Events, May 6, 2010]
It is completely unbelievable that those minor changes to SB 1070 are why Rubio changed his position on it. They did not address his fundamental objection to "states trying to act piecemeal to solve what is a serious federal problem." Obviously, it just became clear to him that any conservative worth his salt supported SB 1070 and he didn't want to be at odds with Sarah Palin or Sean Hannity. The revisions merely gave him an excuse to flip-flop.
However, while giving the now-obligatory support of the bill, Rubio implies that there should be increases in legal immigration—and that no other state should pass such a law.
Even though Crist left the GOP, he is taking more votes from Democrats than Republicans and Rubio is polling comfortably above both candidates.
Assuming he does take office, I think Rubio's record will be mixed. It is no secret that Rubio aspires to be the next Jim DeMint—the leader of Senate conservatives. He is politically savvy enough to know that this is not possible if he supports amnesty, as Congressman Mike Pence's temporary fall from grace demonstrated. But his heart is clearly closer to the usual Cuban Florida Republican line of Mel Martinez and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. His repositioning on Arizona shows that he will weasel his way to do whatever is necessary to be the darling of Fox News, but will move to the left on immigration as much as politically possible.
So what can we make out of these candidates? It is encouraging to see support for Arizona and opposition to amnesty become a litmus test for conservative candidates. However, it is still disappointing that no-one is openly supporting cuts in legal immigration, much less a moratorium.
Still, we can hope that Angle will stay true to her Numbers USA pledge or that Boozman will carry on his strong record in the House into the Senate—or that some new champion will emerge among the freshman Senators, perhaps Alaska's Joe Miller, who has a perfect NumbersUSA score.
At the very least, the next Congress seems sure to be a different world.
"Washington Watcher" [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.