Obamacare Backlash Leaves Room for Immigration Reform to Breathe

Distaste for one of Obama's priorities seems to breathe life into a second.

ByABC News
August 19, 2013, 5:04 PM

Aug. 19, 2013 — -- Distaste for one of President Obama's priorities seems to be offering a lifeline to a second.

One is already law; the other is working its way through Congress. One is Obamacare; the other, immigration reform.

As Congress enjoys its remaining two weeks at home over the August recess, Obamacare is dominating the attention of Republican constituents, while immigration reform seems to have few riled up.

Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said her group is interested in what she calls "amnesty" and the "IRS scandal," but, "Our primary issues are the economy and government spending, and Obamacare."

At the same time, pro-immigration groups are using the recess to mobilize nationwide, pressuring Congress to support of comprehensive reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.

So far, the pressure seems to be working.

In the first weeks of the congressional recess, a number of Republicans have come forward in support of a pathway to citizenship: Reps. Daniel Webster of Florida, Aaron Schock of Illinois and David Reichert of Washington, as well as House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, who announced support for legal status but stopped just short of supporting full citizenship.

A key Democratic congressional aide who supports immigration reform and is hip-deep in the immigration debate told ABC News August has been very constructive, so far.

"There have been very few events that are strongly anti-immigrant, where people are coming out to yell at their member to oppose any kind of immigration reform," the aide said, citing a recent Steve King anti-immigrant rally in Richmond that drew fewer than 50 people. (see pictures here). "The status quo on immigration reform is really hard to defend.

"It kind of confirms what we've known about anti-immigration movement: It's loud but not very strong," the aide added. "Republican base is much more animated by other issues, particularly anything related to Obama, than they are anything about immigration reform."

There have been minor push-backs by the anti-immigration crowd. A new commercial in Bakersfield, Calif., KBAK/KBFX reported, accuses Rep. McCarthy of favoring undocumented immigrants over American workers.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, in early August, a group of pro-reform advocates were delivering a 10,000-signature petition to Rep. Blake Farenthold and a group of anti-reform advocates were protesting outside his office.

"Just trying to reinforce that we want the borders secure without blanket amnesty," said Terry Moench, an anti-reform advocate.

That is not to say they anti-reform crowd didn't try to organize a bigger response. Numbers USA, an anti-reform group, did post a "toolkit" prior to the recess outlining what constituents could do to voice their displeasure with reform -- including talking points for town hall meetings.

All of that was happening while pro-immigration groups held well-attended rallies, such as one last week in McCarthy's district with more than 1,500 people in attendance.

The Democratic aide said he thought the lack of outcry against immigration could make it easier for Republicans to come out publically in favor of reform when Congress reconvenes next month.

"Some of them have felt like they'd have a big target on them if they said anything," the aide said, "and enough of them are starting to talk about this issue, from Rubio and Ryan on down, so it isn't as big a target."