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Republican leaders brush off immigration

The Associated Press

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The conventional wisdom in the Republican Party is changing.

Less than two years ago, party leaders solemnly declared after exhaustive study that the GOP “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” It was critical for the party’s survival, they said, to address an issue that was paramount to the nation’s surging Hispanic population. But as President Obama issued a sweeping immigration order last week, some of the Republican Party’s most prominent governors — likely presidential candidates among them — described immigration reform as little more than an afterthought.

“This issue is probably not in the top 10 of most voters in America,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is considering a 2016 White House bid, said alongside nodding colleagues at the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference in Florida. Walker dismissed the Democratic president’s order that shields as many as 5 million immigrants from deportation as a trap designed to divert attention “from the real issues in this country.”

The comments reflect a dramatic shift among some GOP leaders emboldened by this month’s midterm success just as the next presidential contest gets under way. Having claimed the Senate majority in the low-turnout November campaign, the sense of urgency that dominated Republican leadership after losing the White House in 2012 has all but disappeared.

The evolution presents risks, however, for Republicans competing in a 2016 election that will draw a much larger and more diverse electorate — especially in a handful of swing states where the Hispanic population is quickly growing.

The contrast between the parties has never been clearer.

Prospective Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Obama’s order as a “historic step.”

“Now,” she said in a tweet, “let’s turn to permanent bipartisan reform.”

And as Hispanic leaders cheered the order, potential Republican presidential candidates threatened lawsuits and perhaps a government shutdown — but no immigration policy of their own.

The Republican criticism has focused on the president’s decision to act unilaterally, although political strategists acknowledged the distinction may matter little to Hispanic voters in 2016.


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