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Roll Call

RNC Immigration Push Has Its Skeptics

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
The Republican National Committee, led by Priebus, above, released a report Monday chronicling the issues that contributed to the GOP’s losses in November. The report endorsed passing an immigration overhaul but offered no specific details or policy proposals.

The Republican National Committee may be pushing an immigration policy overhaul, but on Monday, two key Senate Republicans warned against taking on the issue just for the sake of political expediency.

Senate Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., both said immigration is an important issue to tackle but that efforts should not be rushed because of political calculations. Both also noted that if a policy rewrite passes, Republicans would still need significant outreach to win over Latino voters.

“I think you’ve got to think in terms beyond immigration. I think that that only opens the door. I don’t think it wins Hispanics or minorities over,” Grassley said of the RNC’s postelection report — released Monday — that endorsed passing comprehensive immigration legislation.

The “autopsy report” was designed to reinvigorate and refocus the GOP after losing both the presidency and the chance to retake the Senate majority in 2012.

“I think what we have to do is relate to [Latinos] on the bigger issues, how entrepreneurship lifts people out of poverty; it’s not government programs,” Grassley added.

Grassley also said the issues related to family values, a strong work ethic and religion resonate with both Republicans and Hispanics. “We’ve got a lot of work to do beyond that,” he said.

The RNC autopsy report did not recommend specific policy positions, but it advised: “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”

That vague endorsement appeared to be a nod to the significant disagreements, especially among Republicans, as to what should go into an immigration proposal. Some favor a path to citizenship; others argue that would reward illegal immigrants who have broken the law.

Sessions, who has long been a critic of efforts to provide what he calls “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants, took issue with the bipartisan group of eight senators who are meeting behind closed doors to draft immigration legislation.

“If comprehensive means we wait on eight self-appointed senators to meet in secret and come out and lay down a plan, and if you don’t vote for it, you’re against immigration reform, then I think that is improper,” Sessions said. He said he would prefer to pass immigration changes piecemeal, rather than all at once.

Sessions said Congress should bring together experts before writing a bill. He argued that the current process reflects the failed effort of 2007, when he said special interests, including lawmakers looking for a political win, tried to pass a measure that didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

“This looks too much like last time,” Sessions said. “Last time, the special interests met and they drew up the bill and tried to ram it through Congress before anybody could find out really what was in it.”

He added, “And if you were to have a comprehensive bill, it can’t be done in a matter of weeks. You are talking about a lot of intensive work over many months,” if not years.

Meanwhile, advocates of overhauling the nation’s immigration system welcomed support from the RNC, which urged Republicans to embrace the issue in an effort to keep the party competitive in future elections.

“I very much appreciate the RNC’s stance on immigration reform,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said through his office. “This is a major and constructive step forward for the Republican Party.”

A spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also praised RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ leadership on the issue.

“We certainly welcome Reince and the RNC’s support in passing immigration reform,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio. “Modernizing the immigration system is a bipartisan goal that will grow our economy and improve our national security, and we’re optimistic that we will pass reform this year with strong Republican support. The RNC is a critical organization to our party’s future success, and Marco appreciates Reince’s leadership of the organization.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is head of the Senate Democrats’ communications and policy arm, also praised the RNC’s move.

“We are hopeful the leaders within the Republican Party will take this suggestion to heart,” Schumer said in a release. “If so, it could provide a real boost for the prospects for immigration reform. The truth is, neither party benefits from a continued impasse on this issue. If Republicans dig in against common-sense reform, it will be hard for their party to move forward. But if Democrats try to use immigration as a partisan, wedge issue rather than seek real solutions, it will backfire on them, too.”

Schumer, Graham and Rubio are part of the group of eight senators working on drafting immigration legislation that they hope to unveil in April. They released a framework for the bill in January, which included providing a path to citizenship, revamping the existing immigration system, reducing the hiring of undocumented workers and creating a guest worker program.

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