Immigration reform is sort of undead

We now have two House Republicans on record supporting the immigration reform bill introduced by House Democrats, a version of the Senate bill that gets rid of one border security amendment disliked by House Dems and replaces it with another security measure that has House bipartisan support.

Which is to say that immigration reform is just a bit more undead than it was yesterday.

GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida today signed on to the Democratic bill, after GOP Rep. Jeff Denham did the same over the weekend. This measure is unlikely to get a vote in the House. But Dems  have not given up on the possibility that House Republicans will allow a vote on something immigration related this year.

Pro-reform Republicans are also not giving up. Here is what GOP Rep. Denham told my Post colleague Peter Wallsten:

As for whether his party leadership would let votes happen on any immigration proposals, Denham said he expects the House will get the chance to address the issue in some fashion. “They’ve told me that we’re going to have this [issue] on the floor by the end of the year.”

I followed up with Denham’s office for more clarification, and got back this quote from Denham:

“I’ve spoken with various members of leadership on this issue. They have told me and said publicly that they expect to see a vote on this issue by the year’s end.”

Whether Republican leaders will go through with it is another question.

The prospects for comprehensive immigration reform were clouded this week when Marco Rubio executed his comically ham handed reversal, in which he called on the House not to vote on the Senate bill he championed. As Brian Beutler notes, this suggests “the faction that’s pulling the Republican Party in a whites-only direction” is prevailing in the party’s internal struggle.

Many commentators seem to have internalized the idea that it’s simply impossible for House Republicans to ever vote on a comprehensive reform bill, because conservatives won’t let them. But there’s still a basic dynamic here that has been true for many months: Reform can, in fact, happen, if Boehner and the House GOP leadership decide they want it to.

There are various routes to this end that don’t even involve House Republicans supporting comprehensive reform up front. They can allow a vote on border security measures plus the Kids Act, and go to conference later, which would defer any truly tough votes on comprehensive reform until deep into next year. Or they can allow a vote on border security measures plus the sort of legalization proposal that a few House Republicans are working on, a tougher lift but not impossible, and go to conference later. Now, maybe a majority of House Republicans can never, ever support an approach that requires going to conference or does something about the 11 million. But pro-reform Republicans still hold out hope and say more Republicans may come out for reform soon.

To be sure, these routes would get House conservatives angry, because they oppose going to conference, or legalizing the 11 million, at any cost.  But reform won’t happen if House Republican leaders are not willing, at some point in the process, to get Steve King really, really mad. The final outcome doesn’t have to be up to Steve King. It will be decided by the basic question of whether GOP leaders — and mainstream House Republicans – calculate that doing something about the party’s terrible relations with Latinos are worth the cost of getting the base angry, and that it matters that only 20 percent think the GOP is interested in doing what’s best for the country.

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