WASHINGTON, D.C. — The shockwaves from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat by an anti-amnesty economics professor were still reverberating Wednesday as the prospects for House action on immigration reform this year appear more bleak.
“Perception becomes reality in this. And what has been covered, and I’m not criticizing, is that a big part of this is [due to] immigration reform. And this clearly doesn’t help our cause,” Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) – who has been working on the immigration reform effort – told reporters Wednesday afternoon, characterizing the defeat’s impact on immigration reform as “further complicating a complicated issue.”
And Tuesday did further complicate the issue, as South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a face of the Senate-passed immigration reform bill, coasted to victory Tuesday evening.
“Some people claim that it’s immigration reform, and yet look at Lindsay Graham, right, who did exceedingly well in supporting and never being apologetic about his support for the Senate bill. I don’t know what it was,” Diaz-Balart noted. “I just don’t know [what caused Cantor’s defeat]. I don’t claim to know the realities of his district.”
Immigration hawk and Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King (R-IA) did not hesitate on the other hand: “I don’t think there is any question about it” that Cantor’s pushing for immigration reform caused his defeat.
He explained Graham’s victory by arguing that the South Carolinian “had six or seven different opponents, and you know the candidate matters, too.”
California Republican Rep. Jeff Dunham offered a more positive view of immigration reform’s prospects, saying there would continue to be an effort to push for immigration reform in the House.
“We’re going to push our conference to come together on immigration reform,” Denham said, adding that he did not think Cantor’s election loss had to do with immigration.
“No, I don’t think that this election had anything to do with immigration reform. I think it’s time the American people get engaged in the full debate,” the California Republican said before noting that Graham won.
Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) attributed the defeat to Cantor’s supporting a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrant youths.
“He had been pushing for a bill to provide basically amnesty to young people who were here, and the problem that created is it continued to lure more people, day after day. From what I got from Texas, indications were there the first eight days of June it totally eclipsed the whole number [of illegal immigrants] that came in for the whole month of May,” Gohmert said. “In May it eclipsed the number that came in in April; it was getting bigger and bigger, and the administration was actually being complicit in helping to lure more people here.”
“And so I know Eric’s motives have always been honorable in wanting to do the right thing; we just disagreed on it. And I still believe, as I have for a long, long time, that once the border is secure we will get an immigration reform bill done so fast it will make your head spin. There are so many things we can agree on, but until the border is secure – not closed, not sealed, but secured – there’s no reason to have a reform bill,” he added.
According to another Republican working on immigration reform, Tuesday’s defeat will make discussing the issue harder for Republicans.
“I think everything is on hold right now,” South Carolina Republican Rep. Mulvaney said. “Obviously there is not a lot of legislating going on; we’ve got to figure out what the leadership race is going to be. So I don’t know; it depends. I think the general consensus is it makes it more difficult to talk about immigration.”
And while many members were still waiting for the dust to settle on the matter, a group of GOP pollsters assembled by Mark Zuckerberg’s pro-reform FWD.us Wednesday morning refused to be confounded by the defeat.
The group presented polling which concluded that immigration reform is a winning issue among Republican and Hispanic voters. In analyzing Tuesday’s results, they talked past the Cantor defeat, pointed to the Graham victory, and argued that the verdict in Virginia’s 7th district did not fit what their polls found.
“I would caution against drawing any easy, short-hand conclusions that immigration was the thing that drove the election in Cantor’s district yesterday. I don’t know if there is much evidence to support that notion. Every race is unique,” Jon Lerner of Basswood Opinion Research said, noting Graham’s Tuesday victory and arguing that “our data here does suggest a Republican candidate who presents the immigration reform issue properly has relatively little to fear in a Republican primary.”
“I don’t think any of us believe that 36,000 votes in one congressional district, in one state, should determine national policy for 300 million people,” Whit Ayres of Northstar Opinion Research argued.