In the wake of Speaker John Boehner’s abrupt announcement last month that he’ll be stepping down from Congress, House Republicans are currently scrambling to identify new Congressional leadership.
But the party is facing longer-term internal debates as well.
Among them: How to engage with America’s growing number of Latino voters — a bloc that in the 2012 election sided with President Barack Obama by 71 percent. His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, won just 29 percent of that vote.
Tonight, in Immigration Battle — a special, two-hour documentary presented by FRONTLINE and Independent Lens — Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., a member of the House Freedom Caucus that is credited with forcing Boehner to step down, speaks about that dilemma with unusual candor.
And it all starts with a piece of fruit.
In August 2013 — as immigration reform was moving through Congress — undocumented immigrants took to Capitol Hill to hand-deliver cantaloupes to 221 Republicans. They did so after a member of the party, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, told an audience that for every immigrant in the U.S. illegally who becomes a valedictorian, “there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
“I want you to think about the message and the way that message was conveyed,” Mulvaney says about King’s comment in this excerpt from Immigration Battle, addressing a group of voters in Goose Creek, South Carolina. “Think about how angry we had made somebody, to do that, with that statement. Think about whether or not that person is ever, ever going to consider voting for [a] Republican candidate ever again.”
Simply put, he says, the party has to “stop rewarding the outrageous and the stupid.”
“At some point, we’re gonna have to figure out that if you take the entire African-American community and write them off, take the entire Hispanic community and write them off, take the entire Libertarian community and write them off, take the entire gay community and write them off, what’s left? About 38 percent of the country,” he says. “You cannot win with 38 percent of the country.”
Then, Mulvaney gives another warning:
If the next Republican candidate for President gets the same percentage of the Hispanic vote that Mitt Romney got [in Texas], we will lose Texas — not in 2024, not in 2020, but in 2016 … And if we lose Texas, folks, I’ve got news for you, we’re never going to elect a Republican president again.
Immigration Battle — from acclaimed independent filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini — premieres tonight on PBS. Drawing on rare, candid access to Democrats and Republicans throughout 2013 and 2014, the film reveals the untold story of the push for bipartisan immigration reform after President Obama’s reelection — and shows just how close Congress really came to passing a bill, before Obama’s executive action redrew the battle lines.
With political dialogue around immigration more polarized than ever in the runup to the 2016 presidential election, Immigration Battle is a powerful piece of context for an ongoing national fight. Check your local PBS listings for airtimes.