The Corner

Schumer’s Gamble

On the homepage, I examine Senator Mary Landrieu’s (D., La.) prospects for reelection in 2014, and how her vote for the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill might play in such a conservative state. 

Much of the debate over immigration reform has focused on the potential political ramifications for Republicans (See: here and here for examples from today.) However, the fact that Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) managed to persuade every single Democratic senator to back the Gang of Eight bill is rarely discussed, even though the implications for 2014 could be significant. 

In addition to Landrieu, the following Democrats will have to defend their votes for the Gang’s bill in 2014: Senators Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and Kay Hagan (N.C.). All of them come from states that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, where their support for the bill could be a political liability. And if Republicans can unseat three of those four, they will have a pretty good shot at taking control of the Senate. 

Public support for the Gang of Eight bill is hard to gauge accurately, mostly because pollsters insist on describing the bill in terms that mirror the talking points used by the bill’s proponents. Numbers USA recently polled likely voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, finding clear majority support for immigration reform that requires border-security and enforcement measures to be enacted prior to any granting of legal status to illegal immigrants. The Gang of Eight bill would grant legal status almost immediately upon enactment. 

Of course, the politics of immigration reform are tricky for Republicans, who are divided on the issue. As a result, the Republican National Committee is unlikely to highlight immigration reform in its campaign against the likes of Landrieu, Begich, Pryor, and Hagan. That will be left to the state parties and local interest groups. 

A GOP Senate aide e-mails to say that the national party would be making a mistake by not targeting those Democrats on the immigration reform. In his (ultimately failed) push to get 70 votes for the Gang’s bill, Schumer has given Republicans “an historic opening” politically, the aide argues, by making red-state Democrats even more vulnerable in 2014. And if Republicans played their cards right, they would hammer those Democrats on the issue, unseat them, and rewrite immigration reform with a Republican Senate:

Schumer placed a huge bet on the Senate immigration bill. In his campaign for 70+ votes, he convinced every single member of his caucus – including those in the reddest of red states – to line up in lockstep support.  This was a huge calculated risk, based on his belief that a larger vote total could be used to bully the House into legislative submission. Schumer’s calculation likely continued that, once the House GOP had saved bill, it would largely neutralize the attack that might otherwise be launched against vulnerable Democrat incumbents. What Schumer did not calculate on is just how quickly the Senate bill would become toxic in the eyes of so many. He’s therefore given Republicans an historic opening – if the GOP establishment switches from wanting to “get something done” to making the Senate bill as unpopular as possible, every vulnerable Democrat incumbent is in serious trouble. Schumer’s triumph could quickly be turned into Schumer’s waterloo. The question is, will the party establishment seize the opening or will it save the Senate bill in conference?  Right now, that’s an open question.

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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