The trajectory of the GOP and immigration reform

THE TRAJECTORY OF THE GOP AND IMMIGRATION REFORM…. Ron Brownstein has an interesting item this week, noting a detail about immigration policy that’s easily overlooked: up until quite recently, support for reform was fairly bipartisan.

Just four years ago, 62 U.S. senators, including 23 Republicans, voted for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens. That bill was co-authored by Arizona Republican John McCain and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy. President Bush strongly supported it. The Republican supporters also included such conservative senators as Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The 39 Democratic supporters included a freshman senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

That bill offered a three-step approach to reform that remains the most plausible template for consensus. It would have toughened enforcement of immigration laws, devoting additional resources to guarding the border and policing employers who hire undocumented workers. It established a guest-worker program to regulate the flow of immigrant labor. (Under an Obama amendment, that guest-worker program would be suspended whenever unemployment reached 9 percent.) And it provided a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who pass a background check, pay a fine, and learn English.

The bill attracted substantial support from business, religious, and civil-rights groups. The measure almost certainly could have attracted the necessary 218 votes to pass the House. But it died when House GOP leaders refused to bring it to a vote because they concluded that it lacked majority support among House Republicans.

That last point, in and of itself, is a reminder of what Americans can look forward to if/when Republicans retake Congress.

But the larger point is the important angle here. In 2006, 23 GOP senators, including the party leader, backed a fairly moderate, comprehensive bill. In 2007, a slightly more conservative bill garnered the support of 12 Senate Republicans.

In 2010, Dems are working off the 2006 blueprint, with some relevant updates, and with high hopes of generating bipartisan support. How many GOP senators are willing to play a constructive role? Well, there was one — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — and he pulled out, in part because he didn’t want to be the only Republican on board with a plan that was, just four years ago, championed by Republicans.

From 23 to 12 to zero in just a few years.

As Kevin Drum noted the other day, “If you want to know what’s happened to the Republican Party over the last decade or so, this is it in a nutshell.”