Immigration Proves A 'Rubik's Cube' For Many Republicans
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Even with all the former opponents - church groups, business and labor - who are now on board, there is still deep opposition to the immigration bill and most of it comes from the Republican Party, as we hear now from NPR's Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The last time a president tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform, it was 2007 and George W. Bush's own Republicans in Congress killed his bill. Republican strategist Kevin Madden says a lot has changed since then, including the way the Republican Party is dealing with its own internal divisions.
KEVIN MADDEN: The difference between success and failure this time around will be whether or not those that are very interested in seeing a solution arrived at recognize those objections as substantive and work to either remedy them or address them in some way. What we cannot do is demonize those who happen to disagree.
LIASSON: They way Senator John McCain recently referred to his colleague Rand Paul. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the GOP's point person on immigration, understands this very well. That's why in a record-breaking round of seven consecutive Sunday show appearances last weekend, Rubio had the same message aimed at the same conservative audience, no matter what language he was speaking.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: This is not blanket amnesty. This is not amnesty. Amnesty is the forgiveness of something. (Through interpreter) We can leave it the way it is, which is de facto amnesty. What we have today is we don't do anything about it. It's de facto amnesty. It's de facto amnesty.
LIASSON: And Rubio has also, perhaps more importantly, made the rounds of conservative talk radio, where he has received a warmer than might have been expected welcome.
ERICK ERICKSON: I think the Tom Tancredo days within the party are over, if only because of the shell-shock results of 2012 that the base has had to suffer through.
LIASSON: That's conservative radio host Erick Erickson, who also runs the RedState.com blog. He says this time around, many groups that were previously anti-immigration reform have changed their minds.
ERICKSON: I think some of the local chambers of commerce that have been suspicious in the past, some of the Tea Party groups that were vocal in the past, I think we may see them come on board for this.
LIASSON: Especially since Senator Rand Paul, the de facto leader of the Tea Party in Congress, is also in favor of a comprehensive bill. Ron Bonjean is a former Republican leadership aide.
RON BONJEAN: I think there's a recognition among hard-line conservatives that are anti-amnesty that they do need the Hispanic voters in 2016, that there's a long-term threat to the existence of the Republican Party.
LIASSON: But competing for Hispanic votes is not a top priority for the sizable number of Republican rank and file who still see this bill as amnesty. Here's Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions on ABC.
SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: I really respect the work of the Gang of Eight, but they have produced legislation, it appears, that will give amnesty now, legalize everyone that's here, effectively, today and then there's a promise of enforcement in the future.
LIASSON: And beyond the Beltway, in the first caucus state of Iowa, conservative talk show host Steve Deace thinks anyone who supports the bill will have a liability in 2016.
STEVE DEACE: There's not an overwhelming majority of people in a Republican presidential primary in 2016 that are going to go to the polls to vote because of illegal immigration. But those who will all are against anything that looks like any path to citizenship, any amnesty at all. And that's really where the passion on the issue is.
LIASSON: And that's why this issue is so difficult for the GOP, says Ron Bonjean.
BONJEAN: For Republicans, this is a Rubik's cube. In order to get this done, they have to walk a fine line from not offending the Republican base, and trying not to offend Hispanic voters.
LIASSON: And time is not on the side of Republicans who want to work out their internal party politics on immigration slowly and carefully. The legislative clock is ticking. The closer it gets to the next election season, the harder it will be to pass anything. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.