The same day Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, published an op-ed in a Spanish-language newspaper amid a larger campaign to broaden the party's Latino appeal, the House backed an amendment Thursday that Democrats say will both hurt that outreach and prospects for an immigration overhaul.
The amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill, authored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, would prohibit implementation of a White House 2012 order protecting from deportation young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, provided they met certain requirements akin to the DREAM Act legislation long sought by the Obama administration. While Republicans pitched the amendment as upholding the rule of law, Democrats and the White House pounced.
“They talk since November about the need to reach out to Latinos and then something as important as this issue, they do a total turnaround,” said Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y. “I know they’re not a dumb bunch so I wonder who advises them on how to deal with the Latino community. …
“I don’t know how they come back from this and go on all the Sunday shows and say, ‘We’re still for a big tent and including everybody.’”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the amendment "runs contrary to our most deeply-held values as Americans. It asks law enforcement to treat these Dreamers the same way as they would violent criminals. It’s wrong. It’s not who we are. And it will not become law."
GOP lawmakers were concerned about the message the amendment would send to Hispanics, but King, an adamant foe of illegal immigration, pressed ahead.
“Republican committee and leadership staff tried extremely hard to convince Mr. King not to offer the amendment,” a House Appropriations aide confirmed to CQ Roll Call.
A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the leader doesn't want more deportations even though he voted for King's amendment.
"The Majority Leader is committed to ensuring that children who were brought into this country and know no other home have the opportunity to legally remain in the United States," said Cantor spokesman Doug Heye. "Simply declaring that the current law won’t be enforced doesn’t achieve this objective or provide the certainty that these children deserve and is incompatible with our system of laws. The focus ought to be on fixing the law."
The King amendment targeting the "DREAMer" order passed on a vote of 224-201, as Democrats booed and shouted, "Shame!"
Only three Democrats voted “yes”: Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, John Barrow of Georgia and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina. Just six Republicans voted “no”: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Michael G. Grimm of New York, Spencer Bachus of Alabama, and Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and David Valadeo of California.
Democrats sought to bring attention to the amendment both in advance of the vote and following its passage.
On Thursday morning, the press shop for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelsoi, D-Calif., fired off a backgrounder memo telling reporters it would treat “DREAMers … in the same way as violent criminals.”
But afterward, much of the discussion centered on what the vote said about the Republican Party’s commitment to the Latino community and its overall efforts to woo Latino voters ahead of the 2014 and 2016 elections.
“While House Republicans pretend to appeal to Latinos, this vote exposes that it’s all a ruse,” DCCC spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement. “[They] just threw cold water on their so-called courtship of Latinos.”
With urging from the new House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Republicans have been trying to make inroads with Latino voters. She brought in a Hispanic media outreach coordinator to help boost members’ exposure in the Spanish-speaking community and in general has been encouraging her colleagues to reach out to constituents who are not typically allies of the Republican Party.
“There is a group within that party that has seen the light and understands they can’t survive with 71 percent of one community voting against them,” Serrano said.
McMorris Rodgers voted in favor of the King amendment Thursday, however, with spokeswoman Riva Litman saying only that “the chairwoman’s efforts to engage Hispanics remain stronger than ever."
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., who is also involved in House bipartisan negotiations on a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill, said he appreciated the behind-the-scenes efforts from GOP leaders to get the amendment withdrawn.
“I was very happy when I heard the pronouncements of Majority Leader Cantor a couple months ago when he spoke about the DREAM Act and the DREAM kids and said they should have a pathway to citizenship and thought it was unfortunate that his leadership and influence couldn’t have been used better here,” he said. “I know many Republican leaders tried to stop the amendment from even being offered.”
“This is the kind of legislative arson Republican leaders used to nip in the bud,” Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member David E. Price, D-N.C., said in a statement. “They now appear powerless, or unwilling, to do so.”
In the end, it may have cost the bill some of the bipartisan support it would have ordinarily enjoyed as one of the least controversial of the annual bunch of appropriations bills.
It also signals a tough road ahead, Gutierrez said.
“I want to build upon things that are positive and moving us in the right direction,” he said, “but the vote shows we have a lot of work to do if we’re going to do immigration reform.”