President Trump’s Calculated Immigration Move
Opinion -- While the Obamacare debacle has produced the first major blemish on the GOP’s record since Trump took office, the President is clearly determined to move forward with other aspects of his agenda. While he has successfully pivoted to certain issues that the executive branch can handle without the help of Congress (such as affirmative action and VA reform), he has also proven that he is not about to abandon the legislative route either, despite its difficulties.
Enter the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) Act, which the President has called “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.” You can read about the exact details and provisions of the plan in this article, written by Business Contributor Pedro Gonzalez. The main aspects of the proposed law, in short, are that it would eliminate the “visa diversity lottery” (a purely luck-based system of legal immigration), would cap the maximum amount of refugees allowed into the country per year at 50,000, and would institute a whole new set of merit-based criteria for entry into the United States (including financial stability, past experience, and skill set).
This proposed law - sponsored by Republican Senators Tom Cotton (Arkansas) and David Perdue (Georgia) - not only marks a return to what is arguably President Trump’s signature issue, but it represents a new approach to that issue beyond more hardline measures such as a border wall or increased deportations. While those solutions can be effective in the short term (as evident by the over 70% drop in illegal immigration since Trump took office), only a comprehensive reform to the system itself can maintain these effects for many more years to come. And that is exactly what the RAISE Act promises - a pivot away from the luck-based, first-come-first-served system of the last 50 years, in favor of a smarter, merit-based system that will truly ensure that America accepts the best and the brightest that other countries have to offer. This also proves that the President is indeed focused on the long-term systematic solutions, and not just on the short-term problems satisfied by sensational buzzwords and applause lines.
However, doing so is also making a calculated effort to improve the current situation in Congress. The very image of President Trump announcing the new bill, flanked by two Senators, shows that he is prepared to continue working alongside the same Congress - and even the same legislative house - that botched the Obamacare repeal efforts. Doing so presents an image of resilience even against bureaucratic and legislative obstructionism, which is sure to galvanize his base even further.
At the same time, this presents another key issue that could cause some Republicans to side with the Democrats, which would only hurt their future reelection chances as they find themselves at odds with the same base that supports the President. One such Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is already feeling the heat after he released a Facebook post - almost immediately after the RAISE Act’s announcement - criticizing it. If the President can further pull back the curtain and expose more moderate Republicans breaking their promises and siding with the Democrats on another key issue - just as they did on health care - the likelihood will be increased that such Senators as Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), John McCain (Arizona), Graham, and others will be replaced with more conservative Republicans who will support the President’s agenda.
However, the legislative and electoral implications of the RAISE Act are not limited to the right. Democrats indeed have a lot to be worried about as well. First, despite the increasingly left-wing rhetoric against President Trump, immigration has proven to be one major issue where the Republicans can actually pull a surprising amount of Democratic support. This was proven by the passage of Kate’s Law - a bill imposing stricter punishments on deported immigrants who attempt to return - in the House of Representatives, where 24 Democrats voted in favor of it along with all but one Republican. When Kate’s Law was previously voted upon in the Senate in July of 2016, it earned the support of three Democratic Senators - Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. All three of these Senators, from deep-red states, are up for reelection in 2018.
The same day that Kate’s Law passed, the even stricter “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” - which threatened the left’s sacred cow of so-called “sanctuary cities” - also managed to gain minimal Democratic support, with three Democrats voting in favor in the House. When a similar bill was also voted upon in the Senate in July of 2016, it was also supported by Donnelly and Manchin.
With both Kate’s Law and the NSCA already set to be voted upon by the Senate, the RAISE Act will add just one more lump of coal to the fire for the moderate Democrats up for reelection next year. The President is already fast at work holding one Senator’s feet to the fire in particular: Manchin, has already been further alienated by his own Governor, Jim Justice, switching to Republican and voicing his support for the President at a rally in Huntington two weeks ago. Bringing this, along with Kate’s Law and the NSCA, up for a vote would further pressure Manchin to either support these bills or face the wrath of the voters next year.
But unlike Kate’s Law, which already has broad popular support, the RAISE Act could even have similar implications for the Democrats up for reelection in states won by Trump that aren’t deep-red: Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. As Breitbart reports, an immigration reform bill based on merit and reducing the current rates of admittance into the country has overwhelming support in all of these states, including 61% support in Michigan.
Hypothetically, if Democrats such as Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), and Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) ultimately vote against this bill, it would allow the President - and those Senators’ Republican challengers - to portray them as voting against the interests of American workers who would benefit from reduced immigration. This “America First” rhetoric, combined with the President’s stances on free trade and energy, played a key role in flipping Democratic voters in those Rust Belt states with strong manufacturing industries.
Trump has already been keeping his promises to these voters with his efforts to protect American manufacturing jobs, as well as reducing energy regulations so that the coal industries - in such states as Pennsylvania and West Virginia - can thrive again. A reinforcement of Trump’s commitment to these voters’ economic security, through immigration reform, would hasten the demise of such Trump-state Democrats. This will all but guarantee an increase in the Republicans’ majority in the Senate (increasing the likelihood of passing more legislation in the second half of Trump’s first term), further alienation of the voting bloc that was once the backbone of the Democratic Party, and a stronger voting base for Republicans in 2018, 2020, and beyond.
And that, above all else, is why it arguably does not even matter if the RAISE Act passes or not on its first run through the Senate. While passage of the bill on its first attempt would be a historic achievement, just a vote on the legislation in the near future - an effective drawing of lines that would out all Republicans and Democrats who oppose it - will go a long way for building up the Republican strategy in 2018 and 2020. A failed vote on the RAISE Act prior to 2018 could be one of the key elements needed for the Republicans to gain just enough votes to actually pass the legislation after the 2018 midterms.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.
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