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Politics In The News

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So those are some of the changes on the table. Let's talk through the implications of that and some other political moves with Cokie Roberts who joins us most Mondays. Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: And we are also joined by Matt Barreto of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions and co-author of the new book "Latino America." Welcome to you.

MATT BARRETO: Hi, thank you.

INSKEEP: He's in Seattle. Now, Cokie, why is the president acting now, assuming he does act?

ROBERTS: Because the Democrats got shlonked in the election. It's not more complicated than that. You know...

INSKEEP: Shlonked?

ROBERTS: Shlonked.

INSKEEP: Shlonked? Is that political jargon?

ROBERTS: Definitely. It's something that you - that happens in some election years, and it happened this year to the Democrats. Look, their white vote didn't change. It was about 38 percent, which is about what it was the last time. But with Hispanics, their vote went down nine points, from 71 percent to 62 percent. And with Asians, it went down 24 points, from 73 percent to 49 percent. The Democrats have got to do something fast on immigration to get back those votes because they're never going to get the white vote.

INSKEEP: Well, Matt Barreto, would this affect the Latino vote for the president to act alone like this?

BARRETO: Yeah, we really think it would. You know, Latino Decisions did an election eve poll during this election cycle. And we found an overwhelming percentage - well over 60 percent said that if the president took action by the end of this calendar year, then it would make them much more enthusiastic about the president and about the Democratic Party moving forward. This was really something that was on a lot of peoples' minds. The president has overseen more than 2.1 million deportations. This is something that is being felt in the Latino and in the Asian-American communities. These voters are related to many of these undocumented immigrants and want to see relief. So I think there's a huge opportunity here for the president.

INSKEEP: Although, let me ask you very quickly about that, Matt Barreto. Are there complicated feelings among Latino voters because, of course, the voters are citizens? They are not the people who would be directly affected here.

BARRETO: Well, they are in many ways the people who are directly affected because many of these voters have parents who are undocumented immigrants themselves. Many of the undocumented immigrants do have U.S.-born children.

ROBERTS: We've seen this issue make a huge difference among voters in the past. In California, when Proposition 187 was there, which was aimed at illegal immigrants - but people heard it as immigrants - Latinos and Asians went off of the Republican Party in droves, and they had been there before.

INSKEEP: OK, will Republicans then respond by trying to do something on immigration in Congress before the 2016 presidential election?

BARRETO: I don't think you're going to see any action at all by the Republicans. They've had an opportunity here already. The Senate passed a bill in 2013 with Republican support, and they didn't do anything. So I don't know what's changed, Cokie, unless you see something different in the Republican Party today, they don't seem too keen to act.

INSKEEP: Cokie?

ROBERTS: It's going to be very tough for them. There's a real split inside the Republican Party on this one, as we well know. And they're going to try I think, but I think it's going to be very, very hard for them to do.

INSKEEP: We're talking with Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions as well as NPR's Cokie Roberts. Let's bring another voice into the conversation because we've been asking, why now on immigration for the president? Here's another why now - Ailsa Chang, NPR's congressional correspondent, welcome to the program.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And the why now here has to do with the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing energy down from Canada. The Senate is scheduling a vote this week on this pipeline. This is the Democratic-controlled Senate for the moment. Why now?

CHANG: Well, this was a vote that was going to happen in the Senate when Mitch McConnell takes over as majority leader. So that was imminent. That is going to happen. But the reason why now, you know, the House has passed the Keystone XL pipeline now nine times. Current Majority Leader Harry Reid has been stalling on it, and the reason he wants to bring it up now is, really, as a favor to Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She's facing a tough runoff in December. This is an issue that could really help her. So he'd like to see the Senate take a vote on it before her runoff comes.

INSKEEP: Let's remember, though, this is a vote that Senate Democrats have declined to take for a very long time. So, Cokie, would this actually help Mary Landrieu in Louisiana - a state you know so well?

ROBERTS: Well, it can help. But whether it can make her win or not is a whole other question. Her opponent, Bill Cassidy, who is also supporting this in the House, had a poll out last week that had him up 16 points. Now, that's probably exaggerated, but she only got 43 percent in the first round. It's going to be very tough for her to pull this out.

INSKEEP: A brief comment from each of you, Ailsa and Cokie. Democrats have tweaked their leadership team to include Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren - more women and also, Elizabeth Warren, kind of a liberal star. Why?

CHANG: That's correct. I mean, it's to elevate both women, but in terms of Warren's case, it's really more about Warren helping the Democrats more than the Democrats helping Warren raise her visibility. Warren, you know - one of the things I heard over and over again in the leadership elections is that Democrats felt really concerned they didn't get their message across to working-class voters - didn't get them fired up to turn up to vote. And Warren can really help with that messaging. She's seen as someone with broad populist appeal, someone who will push back against Wall Street, so someone who might do really well with working-class voters.

INSKEEP: Cokie, you get the last word.

ROBERTS: She's reaching out to what I think Howard Dean called the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. But, look, we've talked a lot about the divisions inside the Republican Party. There are lots of divisions inside the Democratic Party, too. And this discussion about immigration is one conversation about getting back the Latinos and Asians. There's a group of Democrats that think they can get white working-class voters. Whether that's true or not, we'll see. But Elizabeth Warren is aimed at getting that group of the electorate.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: OK, Steve.

INSKEEP: She joins us most Mondays. NPR congressional reporter Ailsa Chang is here. Thanks to you.

CHANG: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Also, Matt Barreto, author of "Latino America." Thank you for getting up early this morning.

BARRETO: Yeah, it's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.