Some have equated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R) unexpected loss of his congressional seat with the death of immigration reform. But President Barack Obama hasn’t given up hope. White House representatives said Friday they are still leaving the window wide open for Congress to pass an immigration bill by the end of the summer — more than a year after the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive reform bill — before the White House makes moves to implement more limited fixes on its own.
The announcement angers some immigration advocates, who worry that the wrong kind of immigrants are being deported every additional day that reform isn’t implemented. But with House Republicans using every available opportunity to blame executive action by Obama as an excuse for not passing legislation, the White House has reason to believe that instituting its own reform would make action in Congress even less likely.
President Obama said in March that he would explore steps to make U.S. deportation policy “more humane” through his office, tackling criticisms that deportations have soared under Obama while any reform in Congress remained stalled. But in early May he said he would delay that policy, giving Congress a “window” of several months to pass immigration reform before election season goes into full swing. Some who saw Cantor’s loss as the death knell for immigration reform doubled down on calls for Obama to act. But White House representatives rejected those calls Friday.
“Our strategy has not changed,” White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri told the Associated Press. “The impetus for action remains on the House.”
Because immigration was one of several issues on which the primary challenger that unseated Cantor, David Brat, attacked Cantor from the right, some have concluded that Cantor’s loss means an end for reform because other Republican lawmakers will fear similar defeats. But in reality, Cantor just as likely lost because of general political strife with the Tea Party. On immigration reform, Cantor was no champion. He was instead one of many Republican members of Congress who failed to take a strong position on immigration, let alone act on it. A year ago, he came out in support of legalization for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, but never followed through with legislation. He also recently stated that he supported allowing some undocumented immigrants to enlist in the military “in principle,” but voted against allowing them to serve. Other lawmakers who took a stronger position in favor of immigration reform, by contrast, won their primary races.
In fact, as attacks from Brat escalated, Cantor ratcheted up his anti-immigration rhetoric, and Democratic officials told the Associated Press they believe Cantor was more of a hindrance than a help in getting immigration reform passed.
The top contender to replace Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), could emerge as a stronger supporter of reform. He has thus far only supported limited legal status for some undocumented immigrants, but he represents a region that is 35 percent Latino, and where immigrant farm worker labor is a mainstay of the economy. Democratic officials are hopeful that McCarthy leadership could increase the chances of reform, particularly given the demographics of his district.
No matter who replaces Cantor, he will remain Majority Leader through the end of the summer “window,” leaving open the question of whether any immigration reform is possible during that period.