January 28, 2013

Today a bipartisan group of Senators will unveil the framework for a major new immigration reform bill. You can read the framework right here. The most important fact about the plan is that it articulates as a policy goal the need to provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. That was the bottom line for Senate Democrats and immigration reform advocates, and they got four Republican Senators to agree to it.

It’s the price Democrats paid for this concession that could be the problem. It’s a cliche to say at such moments that the “Devil is in the details,” but in this case, boy is the Devil ever in the details.

The rub is that the process for putting undocumented immigrants — who will be granted probationary legal status — on a path to citizenship is contingent on a commission deciding that the border is secure. The framework describes that commission this way:

 We recognize that Americans living along the Southwest border are key to recognizing and understanding when the border is truly secure. Our legislation will create a commission of governors, attorneys general and community leaders living along the southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our border and to make a recommendation regarding when the bill’s security measures outlined in the legislation are completed.

The fate of immigration reform, then, largely rests on what this commission looks like, who is on it, and what metric it uses to decide when the border is secure. At first glance, doesn’t this basically constitute giving people like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer veto power over when the citizenship process begins? Many immigration advocates argue the border is already secure, but Republicans continue to insist it isn’t, raising the question of whether this commission will ever acknowledge that border security has been achieved. And if this “commission” doesn’t ever decide the border is secure, couldn’t that result in 11 million people being stranded in second-class legal limbo?

That’s a legitimate worry, according to Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a group advocating for immigration reform. But he tells me that on a conference call yesterday, Democratic Senators reassured immigration advocates that this commission won’t be constructed in a way that will hold up the process for too long.

As Sharry put it, Democrats realize that they can’t “allow the commission to have a real veto” over setting in motion the path to citizenship. He noted that Dems see the commission as “something that gives the Republicans a talking point” to claim they are prioritizing tough enforcement, giving themselves cover to back a process that “won’t stop people from getting citizenship.” However, Sharry added: “The details of this are going to matter hugely, and we’ll have to fight like hell on the individual provisions.”

That said, Sharry concluded: “This is a left of center framework.” Indeed, the very fact that a path to citizenship for the 11 million is being discussed seriously by Republicans is alone a reminder of just how much the ground has shifted in this debate. This reflects just how much of a jolt the 2012 elections gave Republicans by bringing them face to face with the prospect of demographic doom.

(Update: I worded this clumsily, but when I said immigration advocates believe the border is secure, what I meant was that they believe it is pretty much as secure as it’s going to get, and that throwing more resources at border security isn’t the answer.)

* Rubio succeeds in weakening immigration reform push: The Post’s reporting suggests that Rubio held out for provisions that immigration advocates fear could ensure that undocumented immigrants might not become citizens for decades, as a price for his support. Rubio, of course, is a Tea Party darling, and this neatly illustrates that pursuing real immigration reform that could fix the GOP’s Latino problem, while trying to maintain your appeal to the GOP base, are fundamentally irreconcilable.

* Obama should follow through on Prop 8 case: As I’ve argued, Obama should build on his historic Inaugural words about equality for gays “under the law” by filing a brief in the SCOTUS case on Prop 8 that argues that the law is unconstitutional. The Times has a good editorial spelling out why it’s so important:

For the administration to be missing in action in this showdown risks conveying a message to the justices that it lacks confidence in the constitutional claims for ending gay people’s exclusion from marriage or that it believes Americans are not ready for a high court ruling making marriage equality the law of the land — impressions strikingly contradicted by legal precedent, the lessons of history and by the president’s own very powerful words.

Again, this isn’t to say Obama’s words were unimportant or that his record on gay rights hasn’t been sterling. It’s only to point out that Obama’s words forcefully articulate the moral imperative of continuing to act to make full equality a reality.

* Obama marshaling law enforcement support for gun push: The President and Vice President are set to meet today with police chiefs and sheriffs from major cities to discuss the push to pass gun reform laws. Worth remembering: Today’s “gun rights” brigade is largely allied against law enforcement on these issues, and law enforcement backing was key to getting the assault weapons ban passed in 1994.

* GOP’s makeover is not terribly convincing: Paul Krugman rips apart that recent Bobby Jindal  speech on remaking the Republican Party, and concludes: If the GOP really wants to shed its reputation as the party of the rich, GOP officials — including these supposedly “reform” minded governors — need to stop offering proposals that redistribute wealth upwards.

The basic problem, as always, is not just that the “makers and takers” rhetoric is toxic. It’s that the rhetoric embodies ideas that are genuinely held by Republicans and continue to form the underpinnings of the party’s policy agenda.

* More on the “makers and takers” nonsense: Relatedly, don’t miss Jared Bernstein’s takedown of another version of the “makers and takers” theme that’s been making the rounds: All the fakers on the Social Security disability rolls.

* Eric Cantor plans his own GOP makeover: Jonathan Weisman reports that the House Majority Leader is recognizing the need for a new policy agenda if the party is genuinely going to address its political travails. This nugget is key:

Notably, that [new agenda] will include a new push for private-school vouchers for underprivileged children, health care options beyond the old fight over the president’s health care law, new work force training initiatives and a renewed push for science, technology and engineering visas for would-be immigrants.

You don’t say! Does this mean Cantor is quietly dropping the push to repeal Obamacare?

* Obama will have to appeal court decision on recess appointments: On Friday, a D.C. circuit court declared Obama’s recess appointments unconstitutional, throwing the entire system of recess appointments into doubt. Josh Hicks details that this could mean that an entire year of decisions by the National Labor Relations Board could be invalidated, a move that would thrill Republicans and business groups and one that essentially means the administration must appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court.

Also hanging in the balance: The fate of Obama consumer top cop Richard Cordray, who was also appointed by recess appointment, and recent rulemaking by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

* And revisiting the “lie of the year”: As you may recall, top Romney strategist is asking the fact checkers to revisit the Romney campaign’s epic Jeep-to-China falsehood. But why? Jay Rosen posits that it’s rooted in the inability of Republicans to come to terms with just how much of an outlier the GOP has become, something that continues to pose a dilemma to news orgs unwilling to shed the illusion that the party’s dishonesty is just business as usual.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.