If you want to judge the chances for real, comprehensive immigration reform becoming law this year, keep an eye on the amendment Marco Rubio is negotiating with fellow Republican Senators — the one meant to toughen up border security in hopes of winning over more Republicans.

If it moves away from requiring hard border security triggers as preconditions for the path to citizenship to begin — as John Cornyn is requiring in his amendment, which is a non-starter for Dems — it will be a sign that conservatives determined to kill reform are getting marginalized. The reporting is conflicted on this point this morning, but the signs (for now, at least) are generally positive.

Reuters, for instance, reports that the amendment is moving away from hard triggers:

It could include provisions for deploying high-tech surveillance equipment and other specifics, according to congressional sources and people close to the talks.

The sources said the amendment would give Congress a bigger role in overseeing border security steps to be taken by the Department of Homeland Security. [...]

The proposal might not go as far as some conservative Republicans would like in toughening up “triggers” in the bill that would make the path to citizenship for undocumented workers contingent on meeting certain goals for securing the U.S.-Mexico border.

That would be good news. Dems on the gang of eight can accept the former — taking the plan out of the hands of DHS at the front end. But they have so far been unwilling to accept the latter, since any “hard triggers” as pre-conditions for citizenship are seen by Dems as stealth efforts to kill the bill. The Reuters report suggests Rubio is well aware of what Dems will and won’t accept — and that the “hard trigger” diehards will have to be marginalized for reform to succeed.

At the same time, though, the Washington Examiner talks to another GOP Sentaor involved in the talks, John Hoeven of North Dakota, and reports that the emerging compromise amendment would take the border plan out of the hands of DHS while retaining a key Cornyn border security trigger:

The plan would require that the Department of Homeland Security reach a level of apprehending or turning back 90 percent of the people who try to cross the border illegally. “You have to have not only the plan in place but the metric has to be met, prior to going to green card status,” said Hoeven. The requirement would not apply to so-called Dreamers and agricultural workers who are given a special status in the Gang of Eight bill. But for all the others among the estimated 11 million currently-illegal immigrants, the bill would specify that green card status is conditional on enhanced security measures actually being in place.

Much of these negotiations remain in flux, and the details will matter. If there is real movement in the direction of dropping hard triggers, it means Rubio may be serious about carving out a space in which he continues to move the bill to the right, shoring up his conservative credentials and representing the interests of conservatives in ongoing discussions — but without going too far in a manner Dems say will drive them away. If the movement is towards keeping those triggers, it looks like Republicans will instead call the Democrats’ bluff.

As I reported here the other day, other members of the gang of eight are fully aware that Rubio needs to go further publicly to the right than they are willing to go, for the good of the overall effort. But they remain wary that Rubio risks inflating expectations among other Republicans that the gang can live with an end product that’s more conservative than the gang of eight and Dems will actually accept. If Rubio pushes the process too far to the right, it could blow up reform. Overall, though, the momentum appears to be in favor of marginalizing conservatives in these talks, which bodes well.

 * WHITE HOUSE TO RENEW GUN PUSH TODAY: Joe Biden is set to give a speech today at which he will declare that the push for gun reform remains alive and well, and that the White House remains fully committed to it:

Biden is scheduled to announce that all but two of the 23 executive actions the president announced in the wake of the Newtown shooting are now in place. The two outstanding actions include putting a head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in place (Obama has sent a nominee to the Senate for confirmation) and expanding access to mental health care, which will be addressed in federal regulations due out from the Department of Health and Human Services later this year. To coincide with the speech, Biden will release a “progress report” on the executive actions already in place.

It’s unclear whether we’ll see another vote in the Senate on Manchin-Toomey anytime soon. But it’s important for the White House to signal a continuing commitment to action, because it could help encourage those who are trying to set up a long term infrastructure to combat the NRA to keep organizing.

* HOUSE GRAPPLES WITH IMMIGRATION: Negotiators in the House of Representatives are finally — really, truly, seriously, absolutely — ready to release their own immigration reform bill, after years of trying, and it will enter into the mark-up process today. Expect it to be very heavy on enforcement. Indeed, the core question remains: Can House Republicans support a path to citizenship? It seems likely a majority won’t — which means that what will matter in the end is whether John Boeher is willing to allow comprehensive reform to pass with mostly Dem votes.

* CONSERVATIVES CONTINUE TRYING TO KILL REFORM: That effort will continue today as Senator John Thune is expected to offer an amendment to the bill that would require that a double-layer fence be built along 700 miles of border before citizenship can happen — 350 miles of which would have to be completed before even the first initial granting of provisional legal status. Keep an eye on the vote totals on measures like this as a sign of how conservatives are faring in this debate.

 * CONSERVATIVE SENATOR ADMITS GOAL IS TO KILL REFORM: Relatedly, it’s good to have Senator Jeff Sessions, who is expected to play a key role in the amendments process, flatly admitting that all the procedural shenanigans around slowing down the bill are really about killing it:

“The longer it lays in the sun, the more it smells, as they say about the mackerel.”

Sessions says he’s banking on the likelihood that public sentiment will eventually turn on the bill as more is known about it, but I’ve seen no evidence of a backlash on the magnitude of 2007, even after months of conservative organizing against it.

* ANOTHER POLL FINDS SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM: A new CNN poll finds that 51 percent support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, versus only 45 percent who oppose it. This is actually lower than in many other polls, but even here, 48 percent of Republicans support it.

A large majority favors prioritizing border security over a path to citizenship, which conservatives may grab on to today. But since the proposal mandates that billions must be spent on security many years before the path to citizenship even begins, it’s unclear what that says about public sentiment about the actual plan on the table.

* ABOUT OBAMA’S SUPPOSEDLY PLUMMETING APPROVAL: Remember yesterday’s CNN poll, which generated a lot of chatter because it showed an Obama approval drop of eight point? Polling expert Mark Blumenthal digs into the numbers and shows that this drop is mainly fueled by a previous outlier of a CNN poll that inflated his approval numbers. As Blumenthal notes, Obama’s approval is down since the NSA revelations came out, but other organizations all show a drop of one to two points — nothing near the eight point swing CNN found.

* SCOTUS EXPANDS ACCESS TO VOTING: The Post has a good editorial putting yesterday’s SCOTUS decision on the Arizona voting law in perspective: The goal should be to expand access to the franchise, not diminish it:

The prospect of voter fraud should not be dismissed, but there is no evidence that it poses a practical problem. There is a far greater danger in limiting access to the ballot box, a sacrosanct right in America. Neither the states nor the federal government should be imposing new restrictions on the franchise. They should instead enact universal voter registration laws and other reforms to expand access to the vote.

Hopefully, the SCOTUS decision bodes well for such efforts, since it effectively endorsed the authority of Congress to regulate national elections.

* AND SOONER OR LATER, THE GOP WILL FACE DEMOGRAPHIC DESTINY: Michael Gerson on the folly of Republicans postponing the inevitable by thinking that everything is okay, simply because they may win again in the next few cycles:

For the GOP — beating against heavy demographic and generational tides — the attempt to modernize is unavoidable. In the next few elections, the ebb might be overcome with just the right presidential candidate, in just the right political circumstance. But in the long run, Republicans are borne away from power. There won’t be enough white and gray voters to win national elections.

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.