Senate Democratic leaders hope there is still a chance that Congress can act on overhauling immigration laws, despite Tuesday’s shocking defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“My personal feeling is no,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said when asked at a news conference whether Cantor’s loss meant that the issue was dead.
"I think there is such wide support for this legislation," Reid said, adding that “in the district that Leader Cantor lost [there was] heavy support for immigration." Cantor had flirted with the idea of an immigration overhaul and signed on to principles that resembled the Democrats' Dream Act to allow young illegal immigrants to become citizens eventually. Opponents portrayed the plan as amnesty for those that broke the law and an affront to conservatives.
And immigration was a key issue in the primary between the Virginia Republican and his challenger, David Brat. But Democrats are trying to downplay Republican opposition to immigration.
“All over the country is the same thing,” Reid said. “The majority of Republicans support immigration reform.”
Reid said it should be an easy decision for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to have the House act on the issue, or face the consequences from millions of Latino voters.
"What [U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief] Tom Donohue said is absolutely true, there is no need to even run anybody for president on the Republican side, so I see the glass as more than half full," Reid said.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin was also loath to ascribe the fate of the immigration issue to one race.
"I don’t think the issue of immigration reform should be decided by 65,000 Republican primary voters in southern Virginia," Durbin said before the news conference. "I am told that 72 percent in an exit poll said they supported immigration reform. So I think the right wing has grabbed this and said, 'This is the lesson.' [But] the lesson of Cantor's loss will be analyzed by many people [and] I think it will reflect his service to the district, his image in the district and go way beyond the issue of immigration."
Durbin was part of the bipartisan group of eight senators who drafted a bipartisan immigration overhaul bill, which included a 13-year path to citizenship and increased border protections.
The Senate passed the bill almost a year ago , but the House has failed to act on the issue.
To further dispel the notion that immigration died with the Cantor loss, Reid also pointed to the primary Tuesday of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who easily defeated six challengers with 59 percent of the vote, above the 50 percent threshold needed to avid a runoff. Graham was part of the immigration "gang of eight."
"I believe the Republicans should follow the lead of Lindsey Graham," Reid said. "Lindsey Graham is part of the gang of eight. … He never backed down, backed up, he kept going forward on this issue and South Carolina is not known as a very progressive state."
"Lindsey Graham is a really conservative man," Reid continued. "But I've worked with him on a number of issues, some of which we don’t talk about publicly. He's a good senator, and he is willing to do things, to compromise."
The White House also has pointed to Graham's victory to argue that immigration didn't cause Cantor's defeat. Reid declined to say if he believed the Cantor loss would push the House to the right and further challenge the ability of the Congress to govern.
"That is a decision they have to make," Reid said.
But he added "I don’t think it took this situation in Virginia to have the Republicans running like they are afraid of their own shadows."
Reid said he has always gotten along with Cantor and said he worked with him to get Israeli President Shimon Peres a Congressional Gold Medal.
“I’ve never had any problems with Eric Cantor," Reid said.
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