President Obama may have (one hopes inadvertently) killed the immigration bill prematurely last week, but that doesn’t mean that Senate Democrats aren’t still pushing ahead with the legislation. Senators Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer last week introduced a 22-page outline of a bill – noticeably without South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham’s support. It was important, however, to release something in writing so that immigrant rights groups could have a bird in hand when lobbying other GOP senators to consider signing on to the negotiations (thus far, none have). Dems have said they will not press forward on a floor vote unless there is at least some bipartisan support.
A push on immigration could help vulnerable Dems in states where there are large Hispanic communities such as Nevada (Harry Reid), Colorado (Michael Bennet), California (Barbara Boxer) and Florida (Kendrick Meek). “They need — across the board — all the slivers of turnout that they possibly can get because they have an unenthusiastic base right now,” said a Democratic strategist who is close to the Senate Democratic leadership. “Minorities, youth, unmarried women — those three are the groups least likely to turn out, so anything they can do to spike the interest of those groups they’ll be doing. In the case of minorities it’s immigration reform.”
Reid, for example, is unlikely to get the 15% turnout of Hispanic voters Obama saw in 2008. But if he can draw 3% to 5% of that vote, it could potentially make a big difference for his struggling reelection. Which is part of the reason why Reid spent much of last week underlining his long-standing commitment to immigration reform.
Hispanic groups are not going to accept half measures: some lame attempt at passing a partisan bill. To that end, strategists say to look for a (relatively) good faith push that will be capped with a failed committee vote or some other tangible evidence that Democratic efforts on the issue are being blocked by Republicans (assuming here that no Republican signs on to the bill – the odds of which are looking increasingly unlikely). At the same time, Hispanic groups recognize the danger in blowing their political capital too soon: if they demand a floor vote now the issue may not have legs for many years to come, so a careful balance must be struck. Arizona may have given the issue momentum for the moment, but thus far its probably not enough for lift off and the calculus that Hispanic and immigrant rights groups have to make is if a 2011 or 2012 bill with Graham back on board would have a better shot of getting through.