The Morning Plum: Confusion envelops Senate immigration plan

January 29, 2013

One of the central questions about the Senate’s new immigration plan remains: Does the new Southwestern border commission it creates have to declare the border secure before the path to citizenship is triggered?

The answer is central to the prospects for reform. If the answer is Yes, the commission could give veto power over the fate of 11 million undocumented immigrants to the likes of Jan Brewer. Yet the bipartisan Gang of 8 Senators differ on this.

On CBS this morning, John McCain said the “final decision” about whether the border is secure will be made by the Department of Homeland Security, which suggests a diminished role for this commission, while remaining inconclusive on precisely how this process will work. But in an interview with Ed Morrissey late yesterday, Marco Rubio suggested he won’t support a path to citizenship unless the commission does sign off on border security, a position he reiterated in another interview. There’s no clear agreement even among Republicans about the role of this commission.

Meanwhile, Dem Senate aides tell me that the commission’s role is designed to be purely advisory and nonbinding. At the same time, Chuck Schumer’s office declined to respond to my request for clarification on this point.

Can we get a straight answer on this, please? This question is viewed as critical by people on both sides of the debate. Yet Senators appear to want to keep the answer to this question vague. Which tells us something about the politics of this fight — and about just how difficult the prospects for reform remain.

Judging by Rubio’s response to this question, it’ll be hard for Republicans to support reform that doesn’t require a security seal of approval from border state officials. This reflects pressure from the right on Republicans to demand an extremely heavy emphasis on enforcement in the plan. (See Conn Carroll pushing Rubio on this point.)

But immigration advocates view this commission as a potential threat to reform itself. They believe a ton of resources have already been thrown at border security. Given the continued insistence among Republicans that it still isn’t secure, they worry that such a commission will never give the border the thumbs up, and that it shouldn’t have the veto power over reform that conservatives want it to have. Indeed, immigration advocates believe an overemphasis on security — especially one giving security metrics influence over the fate of reform itself — is fundamentally wrongheaded, in the sense that you can’t ultimately secure the border until the whole system is reformed, removing incentives for breaching the border. Agreement on the need for citizenship for the 11 million is a major step forward, but this gap will need to be bridged somehow if reform is to happen. Yet the current confusion around the Senate plan suggests that’s far off.

* Obama to speak on immigration today: Giving more urgency to the above problem, the Post reports that President Obama is set to endorse a more liberal set of principles for immigration reform than the ones guiding the Senate plan, and he will not endorse the principle of making the path to citizenship contingent on border security metrics. Clearly the proper emphasis on enforcement and security will be a central sticking point going forward, and not even the Gang of 8 Senators appear in agreement on it.

* The White House’s delicate balancing act: Justin Sink details it: The White House will have to declare support for some of the Senate plan’s officials while articulating its own general vision; it will have to mobilize public support for reform, even as it takes care not to trample on Congress’ work. Obama’s speech today will provide a clue as to how he hopes to manage this.

* White House to include same sex couples in immigration plan: Buzzfeed reports that Obama will include same sex couples in the immigration plan he will unveil today. That’s in contrast to yesterday’s Senate proposal, which was silent on whether gays should be able to confer legal status on their partners. This could be a potential stumbling bloc later in getting GOP support for any eventual compromise.

 * GOP base won’t let party embrace immigration reform: Judging by Michael Shear’s interviews with Republican voters who appear to see deportation and increased border security as the only acceptable immigration reform plan, the GOP base is going to make it very hard for party leaders to take even the first steps towards solving the GOP’s problem with Latinos:

In many Congressional districts around the country, the prospect of intense opposition carries with it the threat of a primary challenger if Republican lawmakers stray too far from hawkish orthodoxy on the issue.

The question is whether the demographic doom the party faces will be enough to induce lawmakers to take the risk.

* GOP’s “soul searching” doesn’t go terribly deep: Byron York takes a look at GOP efforts to figure out what went wrong in the last election and finds that Republicans are simply refusing to reckon with whether their policies are the problem:

Did Republicans in the last election effectively address the deep concerns of millions of Americans who fear for their jobs and have seen their standard of living decline over many years?  Was the GOP correct to press for lower taxes on the nation’s top earners all the way to the bitter end?  What about the war in Afghanistan?  Social issues?

Republicans seem preoccupied with the hope that if the right candidate comes along it will fix everything — when the problem may well be that the party has failed to articulate a positive goal government can play in people’s lives and failed to come up with a policy agenda that actually has broad appeal. Also see Justin Green on this.

* GOP leaders not getting the message: Eugene Robinson boils it down:

If minority voters continue to favor the Democratic Party to this extent, then demography will indeed prove to be destiny. What would be simplistic is to attribute the disparity to the fact that Obama is the first black president, or to the fact that Republicans have been perceived as so unsympathetic on issues concerning immigration. If they want to attract minority support, Republicans will have to take into account what these voters believe on a range of issues, from the proper relationship between government and the individual to the proper role of the United States in a rapidly changing world.

* GOP balks at Sandy aid: If Republicans want to give their party broad appeal, the opposition among GOP officials to Sandy aid without offsets elsewhere probably won’t help matters. Steve Benen:

As the Sandy votes demonstrate, it is now effectively the standard position of congressional Republicans to reject disaster relief unless the funding is offset by other spending cuts. So long, compassionate conservatism, we hardly knew you.

* And Obama’s links to Franklin Delano Roosevelt: I’ve noted before that Obama’s Inaugural Address rooted a progressive agenda in the country’s founding language of freedom. Cass Sunstein, in a terrific piece, takes this one step further, locating Obama’s policy agenda in FDR’s “second bill of rights,” which articulated economic security and opportunity for all as crucial national aspirations. The other parallel here, of course, is that Obama is trying to restore the country’s economic security after the worst financial crisis since FDR.

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.
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Greg Sargent | January 28, 2013