It's a safe bet President Obama will talk tonight during his State of the Union about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. But that plea is falling on ambivalent ears.
A new poll out Tuesday morning from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal takes a look at what issues Americans think should be a priority for 2014. The clear and obvious winner: job creation, which 91 percent of Americans say should be an absolute priority this year. (The 4 percent of Americans who say job creation shouldn't be pursued at all presumably misheard the question, we hope.) Other big priorities include reducing the federal deficit and ensuring that all children have access to pre-K.
But immigration reform? It's just right there in line with the number of people who are super-pumped for pension and entitlement reform. Just 39 percent of respondents said that new immigration legislation should be an absolute priority this year, with 42 percent saying, "Eh, wait till next year," and 17 percent saying Congress should forget about reform entirely. Those numbers are a big shift from 2006, when 47 percent of Americans said reform should have been an absolute priority that year.
The numbers are obviously not good news for reform advocates. This week, House Republicans will call for a path to legal status for undocumented residents, The New York Times reports Tuesday, but the proposal will fall short of a path to citizenship. And, as The Times reports, some Republicans are already pushing for House leaders to abandon the issue, lest it further divide the party.
When you look at the NBC News poll numbers, it's simple to make the political case for the Republicans who urge further reform procrastination. The party genuinely does face big risks in pursuing this kind of partial reform. A recent Pew Research poll found that 68 percent of Republicans believe that offering a path to legal status would reward illegal behavior, and 72 percent say it'd be a drain on government services.
The GOP is going to need more support from Latino voters to survive, and it'd be absurd for the party to just push off immigration reform forever. But right now, with enthusiasm for reform low and enthusiasm for the GOP even lower, it's easy to see the forces against reform winning out. At least for this year.