Leadership & Reform: From the Bottom Up & the Top Down


Here is another great post from our guest-blogger, Robert Gittelson:

In light of yesterday’s much anticipated meeting at the White House, in which President Obama finally and formally kicked off his campaign to push for a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, I thought that I would weigh in, and put my two-cents on the table. I am convinced, particularly in light of the comments that I’ve read and heard coming from today’s Immigration Reform meeting’s participants, that things are about to heat up.

That being said, the effort to get CIR passed will be a team effort. It will also require  a vertical effort. By that, I mean that this will require leadership, pressure, and persuasion on and from within our Congress from the bottom up, and the top down. The bottom up will come from the grass roots activists, advocates, and faith and human rights organizations, especially the Reform Immigration for America coalition.

From within Congress, I anticipate strong leadership from pro-CIR legislators and champions of CIR such as Luis Gutierrez, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, to name just a few. Actually, below is a complete list of participants in today’s meeting at the White House, (in addition to the President and Vice President):


Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel


Senator Richard Durbin

Senator John Cornyn

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator Lindsey Graham

Senator Jon Kyl

Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Mel Martinez

Senator John McCain

Senator Robert Menendez

Senator Chuck Schumer

Senator Jeff Sessions

Senator Arlen Specter

Representative Xavier Becerra

Representative Howard Berman

Representative Anh Cao

Representative James Clyburn

Representative John Conyers

Representative Joe Crowley

Representative Lincoln Diaz Balart

Representative Gabrielle Giffords

Representative Luis Gutierrez

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

Representative Zoe Lofgren

Representative Adam Putnam

Representative Silvestre Reyes

Representative Loretta Sanchez

Representative Heath Shuler

Representative Lamar Smith

Representative Nydia Velazquez

Representative Anthony Weiner

However, and most importantly, I can now finally say out loud that I expect strong and effective leadership from the most important players in this effort, President Obama, his Cabinet, and the White House Staff. This will constitute the “top down” pressure and influence on Congress.

And now...the hard work starts!

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for Immigration Daily, titled Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Getting Down to Brass Tacks. The gist of the article is that there are congressional votes, primarily on the left, that we know are already in favor of CIR. Similarly, there are votes, primarily on the far right, that we know will never be in favor of CIR. Therefore, the article concentrated on the votes in the middle, because at the end of the day, therein lies the battle.

This fight will be won or lost based on which side can get the middle voters into their camp, or as Michele Kim, the Legal Editor of Immigration Daily succinctly phrased it to me, “that it all comes down to counting the noses.” How right she is.

The obvious game plan would seemingly be for the Democratic Leadership to go out and try to find as many Republicans as can be brought into the pro-CIR camp. I caution to be aware of the obvious, because in politics, there is no such thing as obvious. In point of fact, the Democrats need to look within themselves to find the solution to the mathematical problem of CIR passage. I reference the following from the Brass Tacks article:

The all important swing votes are to be found in the Democratic Party, and they have a funny yet catchy name; the Senate Blue Dogs, although they have the self-titled unofficial name of the Practicality Caucus, and in the House, the are called the Blue Dog Caucus.

These Democrats are primarily from conservative districts, and some seem to have a misguided presumption that their constituents tend to side with the anti-CIR Restrictionists on this issue, simply because they are conservatives. Perhaps they are correct, or perhaps and more likely, they didn’t get the memo, as 20 out of 22 anti-CIR congressman and women lost their elections by supporting the overwhelmingly minority Restrictionist viewpoint.

"We know the votes aren't there right now," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the other day during his daily press briefing, about the congressional appetite for a Comprehensive Immigration Reform package that would give illegal residents in the U.S. a path to citizenship.

Alfredo Gutierrez, who runs the excellent web newspaper La Frontera Times said of the Gibbs remark,

“I don't mean to be rude but I knew that. The hope is that the President would focus his extraordinary powers of persuasion on the Congress to cajole, extort, sweet-talk, or horse-trade the votes into being.”

Not to mention that House Majority Leader Harry Reid has already said that he could get the votes if legislation were to hit the floor.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), following the same strategy of the last Congress, was quoted in Roll Call Thursday that the House will wait for the Senate to act first on comprehensive immigration reform.

“We have been ready for a long time,” Pelosi said. “We’re ready anytime.” But in saying she’s “ready,” Pelosi made clear she is waiting for the Senate to take the lead. That’s the same position the Speaker took in the last Congress, deferring to the Senate to take the first crack at the highly controversial subject. “The plan has always been for the Senate to move forward,” she said. “The Senate will go first.” Pelosi reiterated that she is “absolutely” committed personally to comprehensive immigration reform. “This to me is who we are as a country,” she said. “Immigration has been a constant reinvigoration of America.”

However, during the meeting yesterday, Obama reportedly said that both the House and Senate must jump into together, to get legislation moving.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee, said that the runway is clear:

"When the president asks me whether Congress can pass comprehensive immigration reform this session, I will smile and say, 'Mr. President, yes we can. Overwhelmingly people support a comprehensive solution. They want it to be real. They want it to be fair. But they do want a solution once and for all."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said it is now or never to get something passed.

"We've got one more chance to do this.  If we fail this time, no politician's going to take this up for a generation, and that'd be a shame for the country."

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) conceded that he has been very critical of the administration's "inaction" on the issue, took some jabs at the White House for postponing Thursday's meeting twice. However, Gutierrez said he was hopeful due to the level of commitment he heard the president express.

"A lot of cynicism and a lot of doubt were left behind," Gutierrez said. "He led today. He was the president of the United States, and he led today."

In closing, I would like to give the final word to President Obama, who was quoted today as saying,

"It's going to require some heavy lifting. It's going to require a victory of practicality and common sense and good policymaking over short-term politics," Obama said. Obama, who has been criticized for not following through on a campaign pledge to tackle the issue this year, said the White House and Democratic-controlled Congress need to start pushing now to pass legislation and "not put it off for a year, two years, three years, five years from now."