WASHINGTON (AP) — Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said Friday that a Republican Party that ignores the nation's Hispanics and balks at immigration overhaul does so at its political peril as Republicans pressured the House GOP to act this year.
"If you are against the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country, you and your party don't have a future," Bloomberg said flatly at a forum on immigration with Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who served in President George W. Bush's administration.
National Republicans insist that the party must pass reforms and address the issue of the 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally to be competitive in presidential elections. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who suggested that immigrants "self-deport," won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders are working on a set of principles on immigration that they expect to present to the Republican caucus next week at its annual retreat.
While the document has given new hope to immigration proponents, opposition still remains strong in the House, where many Republicans fear granting amnesty to those here illegally, worry about the political fallout in their districts and oppose giving President Barack Obama a long-sought legislative victory.
The forum sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was a fresh reminder of the divide within the GOP between national Republicans and many in Congress. It marked one of the first public events for Bloomberg since he stepped down as mayor.
"We need comprehensive immigration reform. To be blunt, we have a dumb system," said Snyder, who described efforts in Michigan to grant visas to immigrants for work.
He said it would "turbo-charge" the economy in places like Detroit.
Gutierrez said that without immigration overhaul, "our workforce down the road doesn't grow," and argued that there was increasing recognition within the GOP that it must be the party of immigration.
The Senate last year passed a comprehensive, bipartisan bill that addressed border security, provided enforcement measures and offered a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. The measure stalled in the GOP-led House, where Republican leaders have insisted that they will take a piecemeal approach.
"It's up to the leadership," said Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, "if Boehner wants to get it done. He is an accomplished politician. He's been around a long time. He's got a tough hand, but that's what leadership is all about and his tactics will be what he's comfortable with."
Randy Johnson, vice president of the Chamber and the point person on immigration, said Boehner is working on a unified document that the GOP caucus could back.
Unclear is how the principles translate into legislation and how far it would go. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the No. 3 leader in the House, expressed support this week for legalization for many of the immigrants here illegally while Democrats have pressed for a path to citizenship.
An unusual coalition of business, labor and evangelicals has lobbied hard for immigration legislation. Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, has said immigration overhaul is a top priority this year. Donohue met with Boehner last week.
The issue is also crucial to several House Republicans whose districts have seen an increase in Hispanics and who are concerned about their re-election chances.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who met with Boehner earlier this month, said the speaker is "very committed to getting it done and getting it done this year. He quoted Boehner as saying, "There's no good time to do it, so let's just get it done now.'"