The Republican base is being rejuvenated, some conservative activists say, by a flurry of congressional action on “values” issues such as marriage safeguards, flag protection and abortion restrictions, as well as President Bush’s veto last week of stem-cell legislation.
They warn against counteracting that progress with a comprehensive immigration bill that conservatives consider amnesty.
Jim Backlin, vice president of legislative affairs at the Christian Coalition, said the spate of “values” votes “really, really helps rejuvenate our base — especially Bush vetoing the stem-cell bill.”
In the past few months, Mr. Bush signed legislation against broadcast indecency, both chambers of Congress voted on a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman, and the House voted to retain the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Conservative leaders are encouraged. They say their key issues were sidelined after conservatives helped President Bush win re-election and the Republican Party keep control of Congress in 2004.
“Prior to this, there wasn’t much to show for a lot of hard work,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.
Mr. Bush used the first veto of his presidency last week to block expansion of federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research and yesterday signed into law a bill that would ensure Americans can display the Stars and Stripes outside their homes.
The Senate will vote today on legislation long sought by conservatives. It would prohibit anyone from transporting a minor across state lines to receive an abortion. The House already has approved the measure, which aims to strengthen parental notification laws.
“I definitely think the mood is changing,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council.
Still, Mr. Backlin warned that Republicans will “lose all that goodwill” from values voters if the Senate version of immigration reform is signed into law.
Mr. McClusky agreed that such a move would devastate the party and said “there is more work to be done” on values issues.
Democrats, however, note that nationwide polls show the top concerns of Americans are the war in Iraq, terrorism, immigration, the economy and gas prices.
They are highlighting these issues as part of an election-year strategy and arguing that Republicans are out of touch.
Conservatives still see clear agreement among most Americans on values issues such as marriage.
But Republican pollster Frank Luntz said he has found an abundance of frustration and negative feelings. He said many Republicans are not aware of the values votes and are disappointed that Congress has not enacted tough measures on immigration or acted to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
“A higher percent of Americans care more about illegal immigration, high gas prices and wasteful Washington spending,” he said. Values votes are good for the base, he said, but only if Republicans make voters aware of them. “I’m very concerned … about the velocity of communication,” he said.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the values votes are “very important” but their effect “depends on whether the community that cares about that issue does their job and communicates it.”
The House this week is holding more hearings on border security and voting on fiscal restraint. The Senate is considering an energy bill.