Republicans are at it again, adopting self-destructive policies.
The Republican National Committee’s report on the debacle of the 2012 election, in which Mitt Romney received only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, recognized “how precarious our position has become” among minority voters. “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States,” the report suggested, “they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.” The report called for a “welcoming and inclusive” Republican Party that is a “champion [of] comprehensive immigration reform.”
Apparently, the report fell on deaf ears. First, the House refused to take up a Senate bipartisan compromise bill on immigration reform, killing any hope for reform before the 2016 election. Now, GOP hardliners — not content with simply maintaining the status quo — have adopted an issue that is guaranteed to convince Hispanics that Republicans do “not want them in the United States.”
The issue this time is an attempt to undo the 14th Amendment’s guarantee that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Republicans argue that birthright citizenship encourages immigrants to enter the United States illegally to have babies who are then American citizens. Iowa Republican Representative Steve King says the 14th Amendment “did not contemplate that anyone who would sneak into the United States and have a baby would have automatic citizenship conferred on them.”
King and 22 others have sponsored legislation to overturn one of the proudest achievements of the Civil War Era without amending the Constitution. These Republican extremists propose merely passing a law to reinterpret the wording of the 14th Amendment to make illegal what they call “birth tourism.”
The proposed legislation is fodder for Democrats. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of adopting “one of the most loathsome, xenophobic proposals in recent memory” and of pandering “to the most radical, anti-immigrant corners of their party.” Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez said, “In Spanish-language media there will be one more piece of evidence that Republicans will do anything and everything to keep their nativist wing happy.”
Republicans gave Democrats more ammunition by inviting University of Texas law professor Lino Graglia to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on King’s proposed legislation. This is the same Lino Graglia who once said Hispanic and African American children are less “academically competent” than white children and who also claims “it’s not good for whites to be with lower classes.”
It’s not just on immigration that Republicans are providing Democrats with made-for-TV ads in the upcoming election cycle. In mid-April, congressional Republicans approved legislation abolishing the estate tax, which they call the “death tax.” Not only does repeal have no chance of becoming law — even if it passes the Senate, there are not enough votes to override President Obama’s promised veto — but abolishing the estate tax allows Democrats to depict Republicans as lackeys of the rich.
The estate tax affects almost no one. In 2013, more than 2.5 million Americans died; only 4,687 taxable estate returns were filed. The number is low because most wealth is exempted from the tax: In 2015 the exemption was $5.43 million for individuals and double that for married couples. The estate tax affects only the very rich.
Republicans erroneously claim the estate tax impacts family-owned businesses and farms. The generous exemptions in fact protect small businesses and farms; it is only the very wealthy who ever have to pay the tax. By moving to repeal, Republicans again demonstrate that their economic agenda is oblivious to income disparity and revolves around reducing taxes for the wealthy while cutting food stamps for the poor. The Democratic TV commercial writes itself.
Then there is the issue of gay marriage. No matter how the Supreme Court rules on the issue it debated this week, the historical trend is clear — to everyone who is not a Republican candidate for president. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll shows that 61 percent of respondents support “allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.” For much of America, the issue is decided, except for Republican presidential candidates who have to compete in caucuses and primaries in states where social conservatives dominate the process.
On immigration, tax policy, and gay marriage, Republicans seemingly favor policies that are guaranteed not to appeal to the voters. It is the price the party is paying for appealing to an ever-shrinking segment of the population: Older, rich, conservative white Americans. The Republican Party has allowed itself to become the hostage of evangelical conservatives on social issues and of the fantastically wealthy, who underwrite the party’s political campaigns, on fiscal matters.
It may be the stuff of a death wish to repeal birthright citizenship, abolish the estate tax, and oppose gay marriage, but it is the modern Republican Party.