August 12, 2013

Here’s GOP Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, at a forum on immigration reform, endorsing a path to citizenship and calling the Senate bill “reasonable”:


Heck said:

“I believe that the pathway that the Senate bill has laid out is a reasonable pathway. I think when you look at having to go through background checks, having to pay a fine, having to make sure that your tax liabilities are paid, making sure that you’re in a provisional status for a period of time, where you have to learn English, you have to show that you’ve got a job — there’s a lot of safeguards here.

“You’ve got to show that you’ve got a job making a certain amount of money, that you’re not likely to become a public charge — all those kinds of things before you’re even eligible for the green card.  Then, when you apply for the green card, you have to go through that whole process again.”

Some folks will probably dismiss the significance of this, since Heck represents a district that went for Obama in 2012. But Obama won there by less than one point, and at any rate, this isn’t necessarily that easy a stance. He faced grief from his own constituents over his support for reform at a town hall last month.Heck has endorsed comprehensive reform before, but his office says it’s the first time he’s done so on video before such a large audience.

Other Republicans in Obama districts who have embraced comprehensive reform during the recess include Reps. Dave Reichert of Washington State, who pushed back on a conservative radio host’s arguments point by point, and Jeff Denham of California, who chastised the House GOP leadership for failing to act on the Senate bill.

House Republicans like Aaron Schock and Daniel Webster have not gone as far, instead endorsing some form of legalization while (crucially) signaling a recognition of the need to do something about the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. But even that counts as progress. Immigration reform’s hopes turn heavily on whether Republicans will grapple with the issue at all, as opposed to spewing “amnesty amnesty amnesty” and other talking points designed to shut down debate rather than engage it. What the recess has plainly shown so far is a willingness — a scattered one, perhaps, but a willingness nonetheless — to grapple with the issue.

The question, at a bare minimum, is whether House Republicans want to find a way politically to get from their previously entrenched position — that any kind of legalization constitutes rewarding lawbreakers — to supporting a process that would bring the 11 million out of the shadows with enough conditions attached that their voters can accept it. (And yes, there’s reason to believe even Republican voters are willing to accept comprehensive reform with enough conditions attached, once they are engaged enough to admit that the status quo is untenable by their own lights.) Having even a few House Republicans going all the way to the point where they’re embracing the pathway in the Senate bill in these terms — as Heck does above — can only help, and raises the possibility that the debate may be edging in reform’s direction.

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UPDATE: Some folks have rightly pointed out that Heck has previously said he’d vote against the Senate bill. And that’s true — he has concerns about a comprehensive bill and about some of the border security aspects of the Senate approach. But none of this changes the basic point: Heck supports a pathway to citizenship and sees the Senate model for that as reasonable — which contains the seeds of consensus and indeed represents a level of engagement on the issue that goes above and beyond what Dems had hoped to hear from House Republicans.

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