Obama: 'Nativist trend' could hurt Republicans in 2016

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Republicans will be doomed if they repeat history and blow off immigration reform, at least according to President Obama.


In an interview published Monday, the president pointed to a "nativist trend" within the Republican Party that has blocked action on immigration reform in Congress and said that his recent executive action poses a challenge to Republicans who want to pass immigration reform legislation.

"Does it spur them to work once again with Democrats and my administration to get a reasonable piece of legislation done?" Obama said in an interview with NPR. "Or does it simply solidify what I do think is a nativist trend in parts of the Republican Party?"

If Republicans in Congress do not act on immigration, that could spark a major debate in the 2016 election, Obama said. That could hurt the GOP among Latino and Asian voters, .

"And if it's the latter, then probably we're not going to get much more progress done, and it'll be a major debate in the next presidential election," he said.

Immigration remains a divisive topic among Republicans, and the best hope for reformers in 2016 looks to be Jeb Bush.

The former Florida governor is exploring a presidential bid and has frequently bucked his party on the issue, supporting a bill to legalize undocumented immigrants. Earlier this year, he even said many immigrants come to the U.S. illegally as an "act of love" for their families.


Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America's Voice, dubbed Bush a "real reformer" but said he faces a tough test in winning the GOP presidential primary while keeping true to his beliefs.

"I am hoping he can survive the primary; it would be awesome to have a Republican nominee who is so pro-reform," Sharry told reporters earlier this month. "At the same time, I have a difficult time imagining the party's primary voters supporting him."


A new CNN poll showed Bush leading other potential GOP presidential candidates, but indicated his immigration position could pose a problem in the primary. Forty-two percent of self-described Republicans said that Bush's "act of love" comment made them less likely to support Bush for the party's presidential nomination.

Republicans struggled to win over Latino and Asian voters in 2012 after a brutal primary debate over immigration. Conservatives pilloried Texas Gov. Rick Perry for saying during a debate that people who oppose in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants have "no heart."


President Obama's strong Latino and Asian support helped him defeat GOP nominee Mitt Romney, whom Democrats criticized for supporting a "self-deportation" strategy for immigration enforcement.

"The fact that I got — I've received 75 percent of the Latino vote and 70 percent of the Asian-American vote in the last two elections is something that the Republican Party should worry about because it's actually fixable for them," Obama told NPR.


"Nobody would be happier than me to see the Republican Party try to broaden its coalition," Obama added. "Immigration reform, by the way, was a great opportunity for the Republican Party to do so."

The president noted that George W. Bush's Latino outreach and support for immigration reform allowed him to perform better at the ballot box.


Republican supporters of immigration reform have also warned that their party has virtually no chance of winning the White House if they don't act on immigration.

"If we become the party of self-deportation in 2015 and 2016, then the chance of winning the White House I think is almost non-existent," Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.


Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.