DANA MILBANK: Some issues press Reid to act



As immigration activists ended a fourth week of fasting on the Mall, they were buoyed by a promise from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to visit their encampment Monday.

But minutes before Reid’s scheduled appearance at the Fast for Families tents a few blocks from the Capitol, the action’s organizers told reporters and photographers that they had just received a call from Reid’s office canceling his visit. The office blamed the icy weather – although the majority leader, it turned out, was already in Washington, and the roads were clear.

A spokesman for the Nevada Democrat said the visit will be rescheduled, but Reid had better hurry: The activists are expected to announce that they are folding their tents.

House Republicans appear to be little, if any, closer to passing immigration legislation than they were a month ago.

“Unfortunately, neither Speaker Boehner nor his office has contacted us,” Sylvia Ruiz, the Service Employees International Union official who is leading the fast, told me Monday from the three-tent compound. “It’s hard to move policy forward when a conversation can’t happen.”

Even though most Americans favor immigration legislation, and even though not passing it could more deeply alienate Republicans from Hispanics, GOP lawmakers fear any support for so-called amnesty could cost them their jobs to conservative primary challengers.

Last week, the Las Vegas Sun quoted Reid predicting that Boehner is “going to cave in” on allowing the House to pass legislation such as the bipartisan Senate bill. But, if so, it’s apparently going to take something beyond hunger strikes.

“Nobody has a martyrdom syndrome,” said Rudy Lopez, who was starting day 19 when I spoke to him Monday. Lopez, whose cousin died crossing the border, has suffered from fatigue, dizziness and migraine auras. He says that he has lost 26 pounds but that he’ll stop whenever the doctors tell him to. “We’re not here saying it has to be our way and if not, we’re going to starve ourselves to death,” he said. “We want to highlight the suffering.”

Maybe Republican leaders would pay attention if it were a real hunger strike, and if people were dying out here, in view of the speaker’s balcony of the Capitol.

But people are dying every day along the border – if past trends have continued, organizers say, about 50 will have died crossing into the United States since the hunger action began – and one of the tents on Third Street contains items recovered from the desert (a makeshift cross, a battered shoe) to serve as a memorial to the dead.

Near that display is a sign that says “Call Speaker Boehner: (866) 691-9212.” People have called in large numbers, and about 13,000 more have sent postcards or signed a petition. Religious leaders have added their voices. But Boehner hasn’t responded.

I’m told that the activists will announce plans to decamp and convert the street demonstration into more of an online movement. They deserve credit for their efforts. But they’re up against a cold reality: It’s going to take more than a month of famine to end the House Republicans’ drought on immigration.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank, or contact him at danamilbank@washpost.com.

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