How Will The GOP React To DOMA Ruling?

Originally published on June 30, 2013 12:43 pm
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

This was a week of big Supreme Court decisions which will have long-lasting implications and are also certain to present plenty of opportunities for partisan politics.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk it through.

Hello, Mara.


WERTHEIMER: Let's start with the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, the 1996 law the Supreme Court struck down in their last session. We know Democrats celebrated, but what about the Republican reaction?

LIASSON: Well, I would say the Republican reaction was mixed. Conservatives were angry at the court. They were angry at Justice Kennedy. They said this is the first step toward a federal right to same-sex marriage. Presidential hopefuls, possible presidential Republican candidates who have to appeal to those conservatives in a primary, also disagreed with the Court. Chris Christie was quite critical.

But national Republican leadership, who want to play down the social issues in order to help their party regain some appeal to independent voters, were pretty quiet. When they did comment on it, it was to praise the Court for leaving the ultimate gay marriage issue to each individual state.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, gay marriage used to be something that Republicans could use to rally the base, talk about marriage between a man and a woman. Is that going away, do you think?

LIASSON: Well, it's going away in the sense that we're not going to see a lot of ballot initiatives against gay marriage like we saw in 2004 that helped push George W. Bush over the top in places like Ohio in his re-election bid. But now, the public is changing. The acceptance of gay marriage is growing rapidly. And social issue conservatives who make up the bulk of the Republican base are out of step with majority public opinion on this issue. And that puts the Republican Party in a difficult position,

WERTHEIMER: The Supreme Court also struck down the pre-clearance provisions at the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Are the consequences of this decision only about voting?

LIASSON: Well, the Voting Rights Act is all about partisan politics. And I think it will have affects there - complicated ones. In the short and medium term, I think the decision helps Republicans in those pre-clearance states. It makes it easier to pass voter ID laws, which Democrats say will make it harder for poor and minority voters to cast a vote; might make it easier to draw district lines in a way that keeps more Republicans in safe districts.

But there's also an argument to be made that Republicans could do both those things - both of those things that they see in their political interests - at their peril.

WERTHEIMER: So what does that mean, Mara? Could there be some kind of a backlash from Democrats?

LIASSON: Well, it's possible. You saw that in Florida during the last election when early voting hours were curtailed. African-Americans saw that as an attack on their right to vote, a vote that was very hard-fought. People died for the right to vote. And African-Americans turned out in Florida in probably greater numbers than they would have. So there was a backlash. And now, you hear civil rights group saying they're going to use the Supreme Court ruling as an organizing tool to turn out their voters.

So although in the medium term, it might help Republicans. You can also see this ruling as a rearguard action. The bigger demographic changes, tremendous growth in minority voters - particularly Hispanics and particularly in those Southern States will, in the long term, eventually overwhelm any kind of voter ID laws or redistricting.

WERTHEIMER: Speaking of demographic changes Mara, immigration reform passed the Senate.

LIASSON: That's right. It was a very big vote, 68 votes, big bipartisan majority; every single Democrat and 14 Republicans, a real change from the gridlock that we usually see in the Senate.

WERTHEIMER: Mara, we've been hearing for weeks that if there was 70 votes for this bill in the Senate, that that would make a big difference in the House. They got 68, which is close. Will that make a difference?

LIASSON: Well, the old conventional wisdom was that 70 votes, or close to it, would help the House move forward. Now, the prospects in the House look pretty dim. There probably is a majority of House votes for the Senate bill, but not a majority of Republican votes. And John Boehner, the speaker, says he won't bring anything to the floor without a majority of Republican votes.

So there are a lot of conservatives in the House who don't want to pass an immigration bill with a path to citizenship, and that puts them at odds with the National Republican Party, who believes they have to pass this bill if they're ever going to appeal to Hispanic voters in a national election again.

WERTHEIMER: Well, speaking of that kind of demographics, Mara, one place that is certain to be affected is Texas. That state really epitomizes the demographic change because of its very fast-growing Hispanic population.

LIASSON: That's right. It's a majority-minority state, and it's the only one of the four majority-minority states that has never voted for a Democrat recently in a national election. And this week, NPR is doing a series called Texas 20/20 to look at those demographic changes. And I'm doing a piece tomorrow night that takes a look at the electoral map and the current Democratic advantage, and what Democrats are doing to make their advantage even bigger by focusing on Texas.

But you do see a theme here: on immigration, on gay marriage. As the National Republican Party struggles to reset itself and make itself more appealing to a changing electorate, it often finds that its congressional wing is marching in the opposite direction, and that's a very difficult problem for a party to solve.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.