(WASHINGTON DC) — Republican Congressman Raul Labrador said Wednesday that Mitt Romney’s unpopularity among Hispanics was key to his defeat and that Republicans must press for immigration reform or give up on electing a GOP president.
“We are never going to be a majority party if we don’t figure out a way to reach out to the Hispanic community,” said Labrador, a native of Puerto Rico re-elected to his second term. “So we have to find a conservative consensus on immigration.”
Labrador spoke during a Capitol Hill news conference sponsored by a group he co-chairs, Conversations with Conservatives. The hour-long news conference is archived on C-SPAN. Labrador co-sponsored a bill to loosen work visa requirements for students with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, which failed this fall. He vowed to continue pressing for reform in the coming two years.
“We can’t keep punting the ball for the next Congress to fix this issue,” he said. “I’m trying to get the conservatives here in the House to work on this issue, to find a solution to the immigration problem.”
Labrador said Republican opposition to immigration reform leaves many Hispanics unwilling to consider voting GOP.
“One of the main reasons that we lost is because Romney got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote,” Labrador said. “If we continue to get 27 percent of the vote for the rest of our lives we will continue to lose every single presidential election that’s out there.”
Labrador said clearing the immigration hurdle could bring a wave of votes for the GOP. “Hispanics agree with us on social issues, they agree with us on fiscal issues, they’re usually business oriented….They don’t want higher taxes. But we cannot even reach them with our message if they feel like they’re not welcome in our party.”
Labrador also said he agrees with Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan’s analysis that Romney lost because Americans felt like the GOP doesn’t care about ordinary Americans.
“We have done a terrible job as a party letting the American people know that we care about them, that we’re not the party of big business,” Labrador said. “We’re the party of small business, were the party of entrepreneurs.”
“It’s the average American people that have a hard time under a Democratic administration – it’s Hispanics, African Americans, women who have been losing jobs, who have been losing houses. And we have done a terrible job of selling that message.”
On the “fiscal cliff,” Labrador said Republicans should insist on a plan from President Obama that includes specific spending cuts, a plan he doubts the president will produce because of pressure from his party’s left.
“I don’t think they’re open minded in any way,” Labrador said. “I think we as Republicans need to stop negotiating with ourselves and we need to wait for the Democrats to actually give us an offer that is a real, serious offer.…He was elected the president. Let him lead.”
Labrador said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shouldn’t give in on Obama’s call for tax rate increases on families making over $250,000 a year. “(Boehner’s) talking about reforming the Tax Code and that we will get revenue through growth….At this point, that should be our line: That we will be OK with new revenue that comes through growth in our GDP.”
Labrador, however, appeared to open the door to at least a small net increase in tax revenue. He said the rejection of a hypothetical deal for $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue increases by the GOP presidential candidates was a mistake. (All the GOP candidates at an August 2011 debate in Iowa rejected that offer: Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich.)
“No one raised their hand,” Labrador recalled. “I actually would have raised my hand…but I would have said, ‘Yes, if the $10 in spending cuts happen today, not 10 years from now, if the $10 spending cuts are actually real cuts in spending and not proposed cuts in growth.”
Added Labrador: “If the president came to me with a 10-to-1 deal where he’s going to cut $10 in spending today for me to raise $1 in taxes, I would probably consider that deal.”
But Labrador also said he’s not persuaded that the prospect of $1 trillion in cuts under sequestration – half from the Pentagon and half from entitlements – is enough to agree to tax increases.
“I actually warned the (House Republican) Conference that the sequestration would lead to higher taxes because we were being painted into a corner, where the cuts were coming from the military and from payments to (health care) providers. Those are two constituencies that tend to be more Republican than Democrat. I thought it was a mistake for us to do it then and now I’m not going to increase taxes on the American people so we can get out of a deal that I didn’t vote for.”
Labrador said Obama and the GOP House have opposing mandates on tax increases and signaled a willingness to break with GOP leadership.
“He has a mandate to talk about it and we have a mandate to fight it,” Labrador said. “I think that’s what the American people elected us to do and we will continue to fight any member of our Conference that decides this is a good time to raise taxes.”
Seth Fiegerman, CNN