Party Division: Immigration vs. Trade

by Andrew Stiles

Republicans and Democrats in Congress are each faced with an issue that bitterly divides their party. 

When it comes to immigration reform, the situation is such that GOP lawmakers are anonymously accusing their own constituents of racism.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House and Senate are revolting against President Obama’s trade agenda. Unions are up in arms. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said he opposes giving the president “fast track” authority to negotiate new trade deals with Asia and Europe, and may block action in the Senate altogether. Republicans, meanwhile, have urged the president to “get his own party in line” on trade.

NBC News notes that Obama “barely brought [the trade deals] up in this week’s State of the Union. It wasn’t an accident. The White House knows this will divide the Dem Party if he fights for these deals THIS year.” 

This is precisely the dilemma in which House Republicans find themselves on immigration. By releasing a set of principles for immigration reform, House leaders have raised the expectations for getting a result, even if House speaker John Boehner says he is not committed to moving forward on actual legislation.

The party establishment and donor base is firmly behind the effort, while some conservatives are strongly opposed. Others question the political wisdom of pursuing the issue this year, when doing so could divide the party ahead of midterm elections and give vulnerable Democrats a lifeline by distracting from the ongoing problems with Obamacare

The dynamics surrounding the trade and immigration debates may not be identical. But at the end of the day, the two parties, each faced with an issue that could divide them in an election year, have decided to confront that challenge in dramatically different fashion.

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