CCIS scholar Zoltan Hajnal discusses Republican strategy on Latino voters.
BY DANA MILBANK FEBRUARY 14, 2012
When it comes to Latino voters, Republicans must have un impulso suicida.
What else but a death wish could explain the party’s treatment of the fastest-growing voting bloc in the nation? First was the wave of Arizona-style immigration laws. Then came the anti-immigrant rhetoric from the GOP presidential candidates. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans roughed up Adalberto Jose Jordan — because, well, just because they could.
Jordan is the very picture of the American dream: Born in Cuba, he fled with his parents to the United States at age six and went on to become a lawyer and clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With the support of his home-state senator, Republican Marco Rubio (Fla.), a fellow Cuban American, Jordan was nominated to become the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
There is no serious objection to his confirmation — which makes the hazing he has experienced all the more inexplicable. Republicans slow-walked his nomination (he was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee in July), then filibustered his confirmation vote on the Senate floor. Even when the filibuster was broken Monday night (by a lopsided 89-5), a lone Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, used a procedural hurdle to postpone the confirmation vote by two days, to Wednesday.
Congressional staffers I checked with couldn’t recall a similar instance of blocking a confirmation even after a filibuster had failed. This would seem to be a unique humiliation for a man hailed by the Hispanic National Bar Association because of “the positive message this nomination sends to the Latino community.”
Paul, whose home-state Hispanic population is just 3 percent, had a different message. He used his senatorial prerogative to leave Jordan twisting in the wind for another 30 hours – because Paul wanted to use him as leverage to secure an extraneous amendment (rescinding foreign aid to Egypt) to an unrelated bill (transportation).
“Some senators are concerned that I may be delaying a vote in the Senate. This is not true,” Paul said on the floor Tuesday morning, in direct contradiction of the facts. He complained about assistance going to the Egyptians, who “now hold 19 U.S. citizens virtually hostage.”
Republican leaders couldn’t — or wouldn’t — defy their colleague. Asked about the holdup, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said only: “I’m a great admirer of the junior senator of Kentucky.”
Democrats waited out the delay by reminding Republicans of their tone-deafness. “He’ll be the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) said, standing alongside a poster of the nominee. Leahy complained that if the biblical Moses were nominated, there are “some on the other side who would demand to see Moses the Lawgiver’s birth certificate to make sure he wasn’t born in Kenya.”
Republicans should be sensitive to the tweak. The party’s presidential candidates have done long-term damage by vowing opposition to the DREAM Act (legalization for illegal immigrants who serve in the armed forces) and by trying to paint each other as too soft on immigration (highlighted by Herman Cain’s call for a lethal electric fence). Rubio and Jeb Bush have called for an end to what Rubio called “harsh and intolerable” rhetoric.
The Hispanic population is expected to double — to 30 percent of the United States population — in the coming decades. So if Latinos continue to vote 2-to-1 for Democrats, the Republican Party will become irrelevant. Zoltan Hajnal of the University of California, San Diego, an authority on racial politics, sees a parallel with the Republicans’ alienation of African Americans in the 1960s. “The image of the party is pretty clear to most Latinos,” he said, “and once party images are built, they get passed on from parent to child in a process that’s very resistant to change.”
The party simply can’t afford self-inflicted wounds such as the Jordan debacle. “He’s an integral part of our community,” Rubio told his colleagues.
But Republicans didn’t care enough about that to stand up to Paul. Through the “debate” on the nomination, one senator after the other came to the floor — and ignored the delay.
Some spoke about transportation. Others spoke about the budget. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spoke about the wonders of his state. “The lettuce in your salad this month almost certainly came from Arizona,” McCain said. “It’s also believed that the chimichanga has its origin in Arizona.”
The chimichanga? It may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos.