Today the Senate begins its debate over immigration reform, with conservatives set to offer a slew of amendments designed to change the Senate “gang of eight” compromise — or kill it outright. But the most revealing thing out there this morning about the immigration debate concerns the House, and it comes in this interview that House Speaker John Boehner gave to ABC News this morning.
In the interview, Boehner repeatedly refused to answer two questions. First, he would not say whether the final bill that emerges from the House will have a path to citizenship in it. And — even more important — he would not say whether he would refrain from allowing the House to pass a final bill mostly with Democratic support. Both of these are critical to understanding how this whole battle is likely to unfold.
Pressed repeatedly by George Stephanopoulos on whether the House would pass something that includes a path to citizenship, Boehner demurred again and again, only saying that he expected the House bill to be “to the right” of the Senate bill. And pressed repeatedly on whether he would allow the final product to pass with mostly Dems, Boehner said: “It’s not about what I want. It’s about what the House wants…we’re gonna let the House work its will.”
Boehner’s interview reminds us of a stark fact: It remains unlikely that a majority of House Republicans will support a path to citizenship, which is to say, it’s unlikely they will ever support real, comprehensive immigration reform. This is an added incentive for Senate Democrats not to give up too much in concessions to the right in the quest for overwhelming bipartisan Senate support.
After all, the chances are that we’ll see one of two endgames. Either the House will pass nothing, in which case reform’s prospects would likely turn only on whether the House GOP leadership allows the Senate bill to pass with mostly Dem support. In this scenario, there’s no need to give away too much to win over the Orrin Hatches of the world. Or the House will pass something weak and non-comprehensive — a right-wing shadow version of reform, perhaps in pieces — as Boehner himself seemed to signal is likely by refusing to say whether the House could support citizenship. In this scenario, Dems would be better served to enter into conference negotiations with a strong Senate bill rather than a compromised one. At any rate, if conference talks result in a weak bill, it will lose Democratic support and be a nonstarter.
But either way — however we get there — it is becoming more and more likely that the prospects for real reform turn on whether the House will pass a comprehensive bill with mostly Democratic support. There’s been a lot of speculation that this would cost Boehner his Speakership. But Boehner’s comment — that ultimately this is about “what the House wants” — is telling. If many mainstream House conservatives privately want reform to pass (without voting for it) that very well could happen, with mostly Democratic support, at no real risk to Boehner. The Speaker left the door open to that possibility today, and that’s a big deal.
* CONSERVATIVES GEAR UP TO KILL IMMIGRATION REFORM: The National Journal has a good overview of what to expect in the Senate this week, as conservatives ready a set of amendments designed to kill reform in the name of border security. The key here is that we will finally see the legislative language that John Cornyn and Marco Rubio are going to insist on, which will settle a core question: Are Republicans prepared to support something that doesn’t harden the “triggers” upon which citizenship is contingent, or not?
Also, we’ll find out whether Dems genuinely intend to hold firm against anything that hardens those triggers, as they have promised.
* THERE WON’T BE ANY “DEBATE” OF NSA OVERREACH: Obama says he welcomes a “debate” over the proper balance between civil liberties and national security in the wake of the NSA revelations. But as Scott Shane and Jonathan Weisman detail, there isn’t going to be any such “debate,” given that the programs are shrouded in so much secrecy and that the vast majority of Congress fully supports them:
If there were to be a major rethinking of surveillance rules, it would almost certainly have to start with Congress. But complaints about the N.S.A. programs have been largely limited to lawmakers from the Democrats’ liberal wing and the Republicans’ libertarian wing, some of whom have joined Congress since the focus on antiterrorism has decreased.
With members of the House and Senate set to be briefed on the programs this week, it’ll be interesting to see if it prompts any shift in sentiment in Congress. I tend to doubt it.
* MANY MEMBERS OF CONGRESS ALREADY BRIEFED: Glenn Kessler takes a close look at the matter and finds that Obama overstepped by arguing that “every member of Congress” has been briefed on these programs, though as he details, it’s clear that many of them indeed have received these briefings. Simply put: The consensus in Congress is to support these programs, and the chance that we’ll see any real Congressional debate over them appears slim.
* MANY QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT NSA DATA-MINING: The Times editorial board asks a few of them:
Are the calls and texts of ordinary Americans mined for patterns that might put innocent people under suspicion? Why is data from every phone call collected, and not just those made by people whom the government suspects of terrorist activity? How long is the data kept, and can it be used for routine police investigations?…The public needs explanations of how an overreaching intelligence community pushed [public] trust to the brink.
As I detailed here yesterday, there are a series of policy fixes that civil libertarians believe would restore a measure of transparency and privacy protection to these programs while still allowing them to continue with the surveillance the government says is necessary to keep us safe.
* LIBERTARIAN RIGHT GEARS UP: A group of Congressmen and Senators, including Rand Paul, are coming together behind the idea of initiating some kind of lawsuit — perhaps a class action suit — as a response to the news of the NSA gathering of phone and internet records. The hope for any kind of debate about these programs probably lies in the possibility of an alliance between the libertarian right and civil liberties left, but as the Post editorial board notes this morning, Senator Paul is already polluting legitimate objections to them with demagoguery about King George III, which only makes any real debate even less likely.
* MARKEY LEADING GOMEZ IN ANOTHER POLL: A new WBUR poll finds Ed Markey leading Gabriel Gomez by seven points, 46-39, mirroring mirrors yesterday’s Suffolk poll finding the same spread. The race isn’t over yet, but that’s a good deal of ground to make up in 14 days. The Real Clear Politics polling average puts the spread at 9.8 points, and the National Journal team looks closely at the polling and concludes that while Gomez is winning over some of the blue collar Dems and independents he needs, there isn’t much evidence of any real tightening in the race.
* MARKEY PRESSES GOMEZ ON ISSUES: With the two candidates set for their second of three debate tonight, the Markey campaign has released a new radio ad pressing Gomez to answer some basic questions: Why won’t he clarify his stance on the Blunt amendment, which would allow employers not to cover contraception? Why does he oppose raising taxes on the top two percent? The line of questioning is designed to feed Markey’s main message in this blue state, i.e., that despite claims otherwise, Gomez is not independent of the national GOP when it comes to his stance on actual issues.
* AND A NOTE ON THE PUBLIC’S SUPPOSED NSA HYPOCRISY: Many have seized on yesterday’s Post/Pew poll on the NSA programs, which shows that both Dems and Republicans have flipped their approval of them based on who was president, to charge that both sides are hypocritical. Steve Benen offers an important corrective:
In 2006, the poll question dealt with a warrantless surveillance program in which the Bush administration exceeded its legal authority with no judicial check or congressional approval. In 2013, the Obama administration, at least given what we know now, appears to be acting within its legal authority, relying in part on the courts, and acting within a law approved by bipartisan majorities. For critics of government snooping, that’s cold comfort, but when it comes to gauging public attitudes, the bipartisan hypocrisy comes with an asterisk.