Yesterday, Wonk Room reported that Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele met with immigration advocates and, according to several groups that attended the meeting, pledged to enlist another Republican senator’s support for comprehensive immigration reform. However, the RNC is now saying Steele “made no such commitment.” The New York Times reports:
Doug Heye, a spokesman for Mr. Steele, dismissed that [advocates'] account as “100 per cent inaccurate.”
Mr. Steele “makes it a priority to meet with different grassroots activists who are concerned with the direction of our country,” Mr. Heye wrote in an e-mail. “Today’s meeting was meant as an opportunity to listen to concerns and discuss the Republican Party’s strong support of legal immigration.
The Wall Street Journal contains an interesting anecdote from Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). According to Hoyt, Steele listed a series of Republicans who might sign on to immigration reform and agreed with the April 30 deadline that advocates have set for the introduction of an immigration bill. However, Hoyt claims that midway through the meeting, an RNC staffer signaled that Steele should “walk back what he had said.” From there, Steele simply emphasized that he could not “get ahead” of Republican Senate leaders.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the two lawmakers working on immigration reform, has accused the Obama administration of “paying lip service to immigration reform” and has stated that the White House should put together a proposal for immigration reform and “see if they can sell it” to skittish lawmakers. However, Graham has also insisted he won’t back immigration reform without another Republican co-sponsor. The fact that the RNC won’t even commit to helping him find one certainly signals that there’s a lot more delaying a bill than just a lack of presidential leadership.
So far, Graham has got away with with placing all the blame on the White House while diminishing the role his own party has to play in seeing a bill through. The recent controversy surrounding the RNC’s meeting with advocates not only challenges Graham’s messaging, it also puts the “party of no” in the spotlight for immigrant and Latino voters who have, for the most part, been focusing much of their energy on putting the pressure on the White House and Democrats.
Ultimately, the Obama administration seems interested and sympathetic, but it boils down to politics. Particularly after the grueling health care debate, the White House needs to be convinced that immigration reform is achievable before it puts more political capital behind it. As a co-sponsor, it’s up to Graham and his Democratic counterpart on the bill, Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), to make the pitch. While most, but not all, Democratic lawmakers are supportive, Republicans must share a portion of the responsibility to get a bill on the floor, past cloture, and to the finish line. If Graham is really committed, he’ll stop the blame game and help make sure that Republicans carry their weight — with or without the RNC.
Michele Malkin blasts Steele for even meeting with the groups. “But what was Steele doing meeting with these agitators in the first place?,” wrote Malkin.
,Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change hit back at the RNC with in a press release this afternoon.
“The future of their party is not with extremist and often hateful anti-immigrant tea party activists. Up until yesterday, activists across the country were focusing their anger on the Obama Administration whose enforcement policies are tearing apart immigrant families and congressional Democrats who have shown very little leadership on CIR. But yesterday, we were reminded of another central problem: GOP obstructionism.”