Republican House members have little personal political incentive to back immigration reform. More than half of House Republicans represent districts that are more than 80 percent white and unless an individual is directly or indirectly touched by the issue they are unlikely to see it as a top priority. According to Pew Research immigration reform ranks 17th on their list of issue voters feel the government should focus on.
It is only Republicans who represent certain subset swing districts that might see their general election prospects improve as a result. Given how few true swing districts there are, we are talking about maybe only a dozen GOP members. Most House Republicans’ only real election concern is a primary and supporting immigration reform is unlikely to help them in a primary.
The one thing that gives immigration reform a chance of getting through the House is that many Republicans now see the issue as an existential threat to the party. Since Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote by such a wide margin there is now the concern that unless something is done the GOP may forfeit the White House for a generation. The prospect of spending a few decades stuck in a permanent minority can’t sit well with most House members.
Allowing immigration reform to happen may require many House Republicans to put the needs of their party above their own. This maybe one of the times where the growing party discipline in American politics might make legislation in a divided government more likely.
This divergence between what is best for the party and what is best for many members could lead the GOP to break the Hastert Rule again. Allowing immigration to pass with many Democrats’ votes while also giving a larger number of Republicans the chance to vote no might be the best of all possible worlds for the GOP.
Photo by Scott Ableman under Creative Commons license