February 5, 2013

Today, the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the bipartisan immigration reform proposal that’s being assembled by a group of House Dems and Republicans. We don’t know what’s in this proposal, since it’s being guarded with extraordinary secrecy, but one thing is becoming quite clear: Unlike the Senate plan, the House proposal won’t contain a path to citizenship.

It’s another reminder of just how hostile House Republicans are to the idea, casting doubt on the prospects for real reform. GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, made this as clear as you could want in an interview:

Mr. Goodlatte, 60, has established a solid record of opposition to any measures he regarded as amnesty for illegal immigrants. But he said the Judiciary hearings would include scrutiny of proposals to offer legal status to most of the immigrants living illegally in the country.

Calling legalization of those immigrants “the most difficult side” of the immigration issue, Mr. Goodlatte said the committee would consider options to give “some kind of legal status to bring people out of the shadows,” offering them a chance at “being a fuller part of our society.” He said the committee would examine proposals that would allow most of the 11 million illegal immigrants to become citizens relatively quickly, as well as plans that would only offer limited legal status to far fewer people.

So what we’re debating here is “some kind of legal status,” and a chance at “being a fuller part of our society.” Translation: Only second class legal status will be acceptable to House Republicans.

GOP Rep. Eric Cantor, meanwhile, said this morning that he thinks Marco Rubio’s plan (which contains a path to citizenship, contingent on strict enforcement triggers) is “the right direction,” but he stopped short of endorsing that path. (Curiously, this comes on the same day that Cantor is set to give a speech “softening” the GOP’s image, something which has suffered in no small part from its immigration policies.)

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that this could end up killing reform. The two critical pillars of reform are enforcement and a path to citizenship. Without both, the whole thing collapses. So by stopping short of accepting citizenship, House Republicans are putting immigration reform in jeopardy, right?

Yes, but all is not lost. The other way of looking at this is that House Republicans have not ruled out supporting a path to citizenship. Republicans have spent the past few years describing any kind of legal status as unacceptable “amnesty.” So hopeful Dems are noting that the fact that the door is now open to legal status is itself a sign of just how much the ground has shifted in the immigration debate.

What’s more, if a sizable number of House Republicans need to be brought along slowly to a place where they can ultimately accept a Senate compromise that includes citizenship, this would be the way to do it. House Republicans could agree to something that doesn’t include citizenship, in order to avoid angering the hard liners. Meanwhile, the Senate could ultimately reach a broad bipartisan compromise on a package that does. At that point, the pressure might mount on the House GOP leadership to allow a vote on it — in spite of vociferous conservative opposition — just as it did in the fiscal cliff fight. And then it could perhaps pass the House, mostly with Dem support.

All in all, though, this is a reminder of just how difficult the path to real immigration reform remains.

* Pressuring Mitch McConnell on guns: The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is going up with a new ad — in Kentucky, of all places — hitting the Senate Republican leader over gun control, with a focus on the assault weapons ban:

Is it really possible to sell an assault weapons ban in a deep, deep red state? The spot tries to solve this problem by allowing a veteran to make the case:

“It’s unthinkable that guns meant for war could be used on civilians and children. As a gun owner and veteran, I support the plan to ban assault weapons and keep guns out of the wrong hands. Because I know these guns. I know what they can do.”

Expanding background checks — which the ad alludes to with the suggestion about keeping guns “out of the wrong hands” — probably would be an easier sell than the assault ban. The group also has a Web site touting gun owners for reform.

* More polling on background checks: The PCCC will also release a new survey today from Public Policy Polling that finds 82 percent of Kentucky voters favor “criminal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands.” PPP is a robopoll, but this is in line with plenty of other national polls that have found as many as nine in 10 Americans in favor of universal background checks.

* The white paper on targeted killings: Michael Isikoff has broken open the story of Obama’s targeted killing program, obtaining the white paper that the Justice Department has produced that is supposed to constitute legal justification for the program. Emptywheel gets right to the heart of the problem: The justification describes the right to target an “imminent” threat for assassination in a way that renders the word “imminent” utterly meaningless.

Congressional Democrats absolutely must raise a huge fuss about this, and insist (even more vociferously than they had previously done) on meaningful oversight of this program, and more administration transparency. Very tough questions are in order. More on this later.

* Dems set to launch voting reform push: It’s good to see that the White House and Democrats are seriously weighing a push, this year, to do something about long voting lines and other irregularities that make exercising the franchise harder. Republicans will certainly do everything in their power to resist such reforms, perhaps because some observers think they disproportionately hit Dem constituencies. But the principle here is pretty simple: In a modern industrial democracy, citizens should not have to wait for hours and hours to exercise such a basic right.

* Demolishing another silly “gun rights” talking point: The “gun rights” brigade is fond of claiming that we don’t need any new gun laws because there are 20,000 gun laws on the books that have gone unenforced. Glenn Kessler takes this one apart pretty thoroughly; it turns out that this talking point has been in use since … 1965! This is key:

It may well be the case that there are “thousands” of laws, but what does that mean? What does counting statutes, or local regulations, say about the quality or effectiveness of those laws?

Exactly. It is an established fact that criminals or traffickers who sell to them get guns from private sellers without background checks. That is the policy problem on the table.

* Mass shootings far more lethal than terrorist attacks: Adam Serwer has the chart of the day, which neatly demonstrates that since the September 11th attacks, far more people have died from mass shootings than from terrorism in the United States. As Serwer notes, it took far longer than it should have for mass shootings to start that “national conversation” about how to respond to them. And of course the high profile shootings are occurring on top of the daily epidemic of gun violence that kills tens of thousands of Americans per year.

* And Dems eye Georgia for Senate pickup? Scott Conroy has an interesting piece noting that national Dems are eying the seat of retiring Saxby Chambliss as a potential pickup opportunity. Of course, this is partly because the map looks so bad overall for them:

Democrats are gearing up for a difficult midterm election in which they will have to defend 20 of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs in order to maintain their upper-chamber majority. And actually expanding that majority in the sixth year of President Obama’s term will fall somewhere between difficult and nearly impossible. Nonetheless, Georgia Democrats are drawing inspiration from the party’s simple yet effective blueprint for success last year in Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota and Montana: Run strong candidates who are adept at exploiting perceptions of ideological rigidity in their GOP opponents.

The news that Crossroads GPS is raising money to defend more electable candidates, of course, suggests that Republicans are worried that Dems will be able to successfully run that playbook.

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.