Labrador: Failure on immigration would be ‘death of the Republican Party’

Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador told a national TV audience that the Senate-passed immigration reform bill is fatally flawed and if the Republican majority in the House approved the measure it would ruin his party.

Labrador said the Senate bill puts legalization of 11 million undocumented immigrants “ahead of security” and is too restrictive on non-agricultural guest workers. “I actually think if we don’t do it right politically it’s going to be the death of the Republican Party,” Labrador said. “If we do it right, I think it’s going to be good for us.”

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday for the sixth time in his 2 1/2 years in the House, Labrador clashed with conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, whose arguments he called “totally ridiculous.” Labrador also chided Brooks, saying, “Don’t put words in my mouth.” (The Labrador-Brooks face-off starts at 6:00 in this link from NBC.)

After Labrador outlined his opposition to the Senate bill, Brooks said he had “rarely seen as intellectually a weak case” as that made by Republicans against the measure that passed 68-32 last month. Brooks noted that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects passage of the bill would reduce the federal debt and cut illegal immigration by one-third to one-half and that conservative economists say it will boost the economy.

“All the big major objectives the Republicans stand for, the Senate immigration bill will do,” Brooks said, adding that Labrador and other GOP opponents are talking about “secondary and tertiary issues whether we get 86 percent border protection or 90 percent” and that he was “mystified” by the GOP opponents.

Replied Labrador:  “I’m sorry, but what I just heard was totally ridiculous. If  you listen to what the CBO said, they said that it’s going to be between a third and 50 percent reduction in illegal immigration. That means that every five years, we’re going to have to do another Reagan amnesty.”

Labrador agreed the bill would spur economic growth saying, “that’s why I’m a big proponent of immigration reform, but for somebody to sit here on national TV and say that that it is actually a weak argument for us to argue that we want something like 90 percent security, I think it’s — it’s actually beyond the pale.”

Said Brooks:  “The CBO said that it would reduce it by a — by a third to 50 percent, and what I hear the Congressman saying is he won’t support it unless it’s a 100 percent because we’d have to go back and do a Reagan.”

Replied Labrador:  “That’s — that’s not what I say. Don’t, don’t put words in my mouth.”

Concluded Brooks:  “Okay, well, let me say the current law produces this X-much illegal immigration. This law cuts it significantly. It’s better than the current law; generally when something is better than we have got, generally you want to support that thing.”

Later in the show, host David Gregory noted that Labrador had told the National Journal last month that reform is necessary and that Hispanics have stopped listening to the GOP. “Isn’t that a bigger concern than some of these policy differences that you have with David Brooks or others who would support the Senate legislation?” asked Gregory. (Labrador appears at 2:20 in the link to the clip).

Replied Labrador: “I actually think if we don’t do it right politically it’s going to be the death of the Republican Party. If we do it right, I think it’s going to be good for us. But if we don’t do it right, what’s going to happen is that we’re going to lose our base because we’re still going to have a large number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States. And the Hispanic community is not going to listen to us because they’re going to always listen to, at this point, to the people that are offering more, that are offering a faster pathway to citizenship, all those things. So, I think we lose on both grounds if we don’t do it right.

“However, if we do it right, if we actually cut down illegal immigration by a large percentage, if we actually do it in a way that actually brings more legal immigrants to the United States — one of the problems with the Senate bill that we haven’t talked about is that the non-ag guest worker portion of the Senate bill is actually starts out at 20,000 guest workers per year. Think about that. I’ve had some congressmen say do you mean 20,000 per county, 20,000 per state? And it’s not, its 20,000 non-ag guest workers per year for the entire United States. You’re not– you’re not going to cut back illegal immigration by only bringing 20,000 guest workers to the United States.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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