WASHINGTON — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) was noncomittal on Saturday when asked if Hawkeye State conservatives will warm to Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) immigration plan.
“Well I don’t know that they know enough about it yet,” Branstad said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
When pressed on whether Rubio’s plan might fall flat in the state that plays such a crucial role in the Republican primary nominating process, Branstad hesitated.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said.
“Iowans are open to legal immigration,” he said. “What they have a problem with is people that illegally come here. But I think that they’re willing to try to find some way to resolve this issue.”
Branstad praised Rubio and said Iowa Republicans “look at him as a problem solver and they look at him as a guy that’s a great example of living the American dream.” Rubio’s name was the first one out of Branstad’s mouth when HuffPost asked him who is in the top tier of the GOP’s 2016 presidential prospects.
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said Tuesday that Democrats’ insistence on a pathway to citizenship could kill comprehensive immigration reform but that Republicans could be persuaded to support legalization.
The Idaho Republican said there is a key political distinction between legislation that would offer illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
a path to citizenship versus one that offers them a path to legalized status. Labrador conceded that conservative critics would likely label legalization as “amnesty,” a charge that has derailed previous attempts at passing immigration reform. But the congressman, a conservative stalwart on most issues, suggested the policy would sell with voters back home.
The times are certainly changing for hard-line anti-immigration activists.
Just a few years ago, spurred by the grassroots effort of Tea Party stalwarts and fears of a record number of people crossing over the country’s southern border, conservative leaders virtually killed any chance of comprehensive immigration reform. Today, thanks in large part to the waning power of the Tea Party and a massive loss of Latino votes in November’s presidential election, Republican leaders have shifted their rhetoric – putting on a friendlier face toward Hispanics and stressing a bipartisan immigration effort.
“The momentum has shifted back to the pro-immigrant side,” said Gary Freeman, a politics professor at the University of Texas. “The Tea Party went too far, they were too angry, too pejorative.”
As the White House works hammers out draft legislation for immigration reform, a sharp divide between moderate republicans and the Tea Party is hardening in Congress. The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman and DC bureau chief David Corn discuss the GOP’s divide over immigration on MSNBC’s Hardball: