Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Down but not done: Cantor's loss not end for immigration reform

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
June 14, 2014 -- Updated 1339 GMT (2139 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric Cantor's stunning primary loss Tuesday was a blow to immigration reform
  • Cantor's opponent made an issue of the majority leader's position on so-called "Dreamers"
  • President Obama faces increasing pressure to use power of pen on immigration reform

Washington (CNN) -- The chances of immigration reform passing in the House this year were already slim before its majority leader, Eric Cantor, lost his primary on Tuesday.

So, by the time Cantor announced on Wednesday that he was stepping down from his leadership post on July 31, those who oppose any type of amnesty for illegal immigrants were sounding the death knell for related legislation on Capitol Hill.

In his victory speech, Dave Brat, the economics professor who defeated Cantor by double digits, cited the lawmaker's willingness to consider a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants as one of his opponent's weak flanks.

And pundits said that will be a lesson to others who might dare to push for reform.

"It is a bombshell," CNN senior political analyst David Gergen said on CNN of Cantor's loss. "I think it does mean more gridlock ahead, especially on immigration. Immigration reform is now dead."

Those who support such measures as granting a pathway to citizenship to Dreamers — the children of those who came to the country illegally — raced to put Cantor's defeat in context.

"Some things do not change after a primary. Even a primary result that no one, including the winning candidate, had predicted," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, an Illinois Democrat and staunch immigration advocate, said on the House floor on Wednesday. "Immigration reform is not dead. It might just be moving to the White House for action if none comes from this House."

There was always a short window in this Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the House before lawmakers leave for the summer in August and before the midterm elections in November, legal and political experts say.

Maybe immigration reform isn't dead after all

Last year, the Senate approved a sweeping immigration reform package, including a path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million of the more than 11 million undocumented workers in the country, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office.

Though roughly one-third of Republicans supported the measure, the legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled House as lawmakers there weighed more gradual reforms.

Crisis immigration centers under fire
Anchor goes after Boehner on immigration
An immigration warning to GOP

Cantor had publicly backed proposals giving Dreamers the chance to receive some type of legal status, however he voted against the broader Senate measure.

"Cantor ignored the advice of every Republican pollster and tried to be wishy-washy on immigration," Gutiérrez told CNN in a statement. "He didn't convince the pro-immigration side he was with them and he didn't convince the anti-immigration side he was with them. And he lost. That is not what happened to Sen. (Lindsey) Graham in South Carolina, Rep. (Renee) Elmers in North Carolina, or a number of others who have made a clear case for immigration reform that is not 'amnesty.'"

Cantor's loss might make other Republicans facing conservative challenges skittish, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University Law School.

"One primary does not determine the fate of immigration reform, however it does make it harder for Republicans to do anything before the August recess," Yale-Loehr said.

But it's not all up to the House.

Should Obama use the power of his pen to turn the tide on immigration reform?

President Barack Obama has also been under pressure from immigration activists and members of his own party to use executive action to push through reform — especially if the House fails to act before the recess.

He rejected any notion that Cantor's defeat means the end for immigration reform in the House -- a message he said he would relay to Speaker John Boehner.

"At a certain point, issues are important enough to fight for. My argument about yesterday's election is not that there was too little politics -- there was too little conviction about what was right," Obama said at a fundraiser in Boston, according to a press pool account.

"We need to get immigration reform done."

The flood of hundreds of unaccompanied children crossing into this country daily and overflowing holding centers is an issue that could further hasten the administration to act, immigration legal experts say.

Obama has called the border situation involving children "an urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated federal response" and has established a group that will work across federal agencies to help address the problem.

In the meantime, supporters also want the President to do more to slow the record number of deportations during his presidency.

There have been roughly 2 million deportations under Obama, a number that far eclipses previous presidencies and led the head of the National Council of La Raza to dub him "the deporter-in-chief."

He has directed the administration to reexamine its deportation policy. Immigration reform advocates also want the administration to make noncriminals and minor offenders the lowest deportation priorities and extend amnesty to the parents and guardians of Dreamers.

"Just because Cantor lost doesn't mean that all of those other conversations and criticisms about not doing something about immigration goes away," said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian and CNN contributor. "The likelihood was that the President was planning to use executive action anyway regardless of what happened to Cantor."

Part of complete coverage on
See the full results for who won the Senate, House and governor midterm elections.
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 0226 GMT (1026 HKT)
Attention Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and everyone else "seriously considering" a run for president.
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 2318 GMT (0718 HKT)
You know that Republican doctor who got one of his patients pregnant and then demanded that she get an abortion? Yeah, he won.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
The 2014 midterm elections brought a historic victory for Republicans, handing the GOP its largest congressional majority since World War II.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
It was a tough night for Democrats -- who will be looking for a leader for 2016 -- and a big night for the GOP -- who may have a few more names to consider.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
A Republican tide ripped the Senate away from Democrats, giving the GOP full control of Congress and the power to pin down President Obama.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
The House of Representatives remained solidly in Republican hands after Tuesday's midterm election.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has won re-election in Kentucky, staving off Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to a CNN projection.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0706 GMT (1506 HKT)
Sen. Ted Cruz lauded the Republican Senate takeover, but shied away from endorsing Sen. Mitch McConnell to lead the new majority.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
CNN asked commentators for views on the results of the midterm elections, in which the GOP took back the Senate and retained control of the House.
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
South Carolina's Tim Scott became the first African-American senator to win election in the South since Reconstruction.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Voters in Oregon and D.C. have voted to approve sweeping pro-marijuana legalization while voters in Florida gave the thumbs down.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
Republicans continued their dominance of governor's mansions when a number of GOP leaders fought off stiff challenges from Democrats.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0414 GMT (1214 HKT)
Republican David Perdue has won the race for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat occupied by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0609 GMT (1409 HKT)
First-term Democratic incumbent North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan lost in a tight contest against GOP challenger Thom Tillis.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0309 GMT (1109 HKT)
Republican Rep. Tom Cotton has defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, according to a CNN projection.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Republican Scott Brown lost his second Senate race in two election cycles, failing to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Former Gov. Charlie Crist conceded Florida's close gubernatorial race against GOP Gov. Rick Scott.
November 4, 2014 -- Updated 2349 GMT (0749 HKT)
A majority of Americans are dissatisfied with President Obama's administration and GOP leaders, according to exit polls released and analyzed by CNN.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
Take a look around the country in our gallery as America votes.
Who's giving to outside groups? It's not just candidates and parties spending the cash.
ADVERTISEMENT