Immigration reform a bipartisan litmus test for Democrats

Immigration reform has stalled on Capitol Hill, but it lives on in campaigns across the country this year where Democrats are citing it as a key litmus test of Republicans’ bipartisan credentials.

From Alaska to Iowa, Democrats are turning the immigration debate from a question of legalization and amnesty into a debate over willingness to cross party lines on tough issues — and say Republican candidates who oppose the Senate bill have shown they can’t be trusted to work in a bipartisan manner.

“With disgust at Washington at a all-time high, or low, depending on how you look at it, I think it makes sense for Democrats to remind voters as much as possible that if the Republican Party wasn’t dominated by a bunch of extremists, Congress could do much more to help address the problems facing the country,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist.

In Georgia, where the immigration bill itself may not be too popular, Democratic Senate nominee Michelle Nunn is still pressing the attack, arguing that Republican nominee David Perdue’s refusal to back the legislation shows he can’t be trusted to find bipartisan solutions.

“This is probably one of the sharper contrasts you that will find between David and myself,” Mrs. Nunn said in a candidates forum. “I think David embraces what I believe is the attitude of gridlock in Washington that has not enabled us to get this done.”

The Senate bill was written by the Gang of Eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, and would have legalized most of the estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants already in the country, while also boosting legal immigration to help businesses find workers. It passed on a 68-32 vote, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans supporting it — but it has failed to gain traction in the House, where the GOP has refused to bring it up for a vote.

Democrats from President Obama on down have said the bill symbolizes the fate of bipartisanship in Washington, praising Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona — the four Republicans who co-wrote the legislation.

In Iowa’s Senate race this year, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley has prodded Republican nominee Joni Ernst to say whether she would have joined the GOP architects of the bill, known by its legislative number, S.744.

“The Braley campaign has contrasted Braley’s bipartisan accomplishments against Ernst’s obstructionism,” said Jeff Link, who is advising the Braley camp. “This is another issues where that frame works.”

And in Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich, an incumbent Democrat who voted for the legislation, questioned why Republican nominee Dan Sullivan wouldn’t back a bill that had the support of Mr. Rubio.

Republican candidates reject the immigration bill as a proxy for bipartisanship, saying the real gridlock problem in Washington stems from Senate Democrats’ chief, Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“I am getting a little bored hearing this, ‘I am going to work across the aisle,’ when nobody on the Democratic side has decided they want to work across the aisle with Republicans in the United States Senate,” Mr. Perdue replied to Mrs. Nunn’s attacks at a debate last week.

He said bipartisanship would require Mrs. Nunn standing up to President Obama and Mr. Reid.

“You say you want to be a team builder, a conciliator, but you will not bite the hand that feeds you,” Mr. Perdue said.

And even some of the Gang of Eight are split on the meaning of the bill.

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Immigration reform a bipartisan litmus test for Democrats
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