The former president, who has largely stayed out of the limelight since leaving office in January 2009, spoke up recently about the immigration bill debate set for the House of Representatives, encouraging lawmakers to find a way to get immigration reform passed this year.
The bill, which made it through the Senate, has moved to the House where it faces dismantling and reconstruction. Some Congressional leaders said it was unlikely the measure would come up for a vote before the August recess.
“I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate,” Bush said on Wednesday at his presidential library in Dallas, where 20 people were sworn in as naturalized citizens.
“At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation.”
But the ex-decider may not hold much sway with members of his party, much less the entire House.
“Anybody has to take an ex-president’s word seriously, but he’s just another voice on this issue,” Rep. Raul R. Labrardor (R-Idaho) told The Washington Post.
“He’s not going to be the definitive voice.”
But maybe some of his party members should listen.
In 2004, Bush won re-election with 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. When Mitt Romney ran for president last year, that figure was 29 percent.
After its defeat in the race for the White House last year, and the loss of some seats in the Senate, Republicans signaled a desire to reach out to groups that felt alienated from the party, including Hispanic-Americans and immigrants, especially Latinos.
There was talk of finding a path to citizenship, higher taxes on the upper 4 percent and expanding the party to include new voices. The Republicans went through a series of mea culpas and a little self-flagellation, suggesting it was time to recognize the will of the people and adjust accordingly if it wanted to survive.
It didn’t last long, however, and for a while it appeared that the only thing that might get done in the new Congress was passage of some sort of immigration reform.
That, too, now seems to be on the ropes.
Last month, the Senate passed an immigration bill that included a path to citizenship for as many as 11 million current immigrants in the U.S. illegally. One of the House’s major problems with the bill is the breadth of the amnesty and path to citizenship.
While a Bush spokesman said the former president’s remarks were merely coincidental, it would seem that even he understands the party’s fortunes could well be tied to where Republicans land on this issue.
President Obama made immigration reform one of his top considerations for his second term. He helped to nurse the process through the Senate and has turned to the public to pressure the GOP-controlled House to pass the bill.
A friend who follows politics closely said the debate won’t hurt Obama, specifically, or Democrats generally.
“If it passes, Obama wins; if it fails, Obama still wins because the Republicans will be blamed.”
Bush made a major push in 2007 but failed to get a bipartisan immigration reform bill through the Senate. He may be hoping that this time he can get someone’s attention.
Carlos Gutierrez, Commerce Secretary under Bush, who now heads a political action committee called Republicans for Immigration Reform, told The Post that the former president’s remarks Wednesday should be “a very powerful reminder to people that here is a Republican president who understands the importance of immigration.”
Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”