Last Friday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) addressed the 2011 Inaugural Conference of the Hispanic Leadership Network — an event that was “billed” as a forum for the 2012 Republican presidential field to speak directly to Latino voters. The main topic of Cornyn’s speech was immigration. Rather than taking responsibility for his party’s obstructionism on the issue, Cornyn proceeded to lay all of the blame for the lack of immigration reform squarely at the feet of President Obama and the Democratic Congress:
They [Democrats] have controlled Congress for four years, have occupied the White House for two years, and yet they’ve broken every promise to lead on immigration reform. During his campaign, President Obama promised both LULAC and the National Council of La Raza that immigration reform would be a top priority during his first year in office, but all that changed. [...]
I would say it’s pretty easy to see that there are not many alternatives to his [Reid] party which has cynically misled on a repeated basis the Hispanic community about their good faith in moving forward and their leadership in this important issue. [...]
You have to wonder if President Obama and Senator Reid could muster 60 votes for the health care bill, why couldn’t they show similar leadership and muster support to move an immigration reform bill. One that I believe would be supported on a bipartisan basis.
During his speech, Cornyn additionally accused Democrats of “poison[ing] the well” with the passage of the stimulus and “Obamacare.” Yet, he acknowledged the need for a “credible and compassionate solution” that addresses the situation of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. According to Cornyn — who co-sponsored an immigration reform bill in 2007 — he will continue to work on the issue. “One thing I assure you that hasn’t changed is my own commitment to help fix our broken immigration system,” said Cornyn.
Cornyn presented Latinos with a pretty distorted perspective of what has happened over the past several years with immigration. While it’s true that Obama over-promised and under-delivered on immigration, I’ve repeatedly argued that pinning too much blame on Democrats fails to capture the political limitations the Obama administration has faced and distracts attention from the real culprits of the immigration debate.
From the time he took office, Obama always qualified his “promise” by noting that immigration reform stood in line behind health care reform, energy legislation, and financial regulatory changes. Republicans, meanwhile, have pulled every to stunt to block — or at the very least delay — the entire progressive agenda. Following the passage of health care reform, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — the only Republican who was open to co-sponsoring an immigration bill — simply decided to pull out, similarly stating that the “well has been poisoned.” Republicans continued to rail on immigration reform and trumpeted border security and overturning the 14th amendment to deny the American-born children of undocumented immigrants citizenship. In December, Republicans blocked the DREAM Act. If Republicans couldn’t accept a bill which would help undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents, it’s hard to imagine they’d be open to anything more ambitious.
Cornyn should know all of this because he was at the center of the debate last year. For a while, immigration advocates and Democratic leadership seemed to be lobbying Cornyn in hopes that he would join Graham as a second Republican co-sponsor. Ultimately, Cornyn backed away, accused Democrats of playing politics with immigration, and decided his party should single-mindedly focus on securing the border.
Cornyn is no stranger to pandering on immigration. Back in 2006, he received a lot of flack for speaking at a conference entitled “Defending the Homeland: America’s Immigration Crisis.” The event was hosted by the Rockford Institute — an organization described as “xenophobic, racist, and nativist” by its own ex-director. The conference was moderated by the group’s current president, Thomas Fleming, who once wrote, “Whatever we may say in public, most of us do not much like Mexicans, whom we regard as too irrational, too violent, too passionate.”