October 30, 2013

We now have three House Republicans who have signed on to the House Dem comprehensive immigration reform bill, putting immigration reform officially back in the “undead” category.

GOP Rep. David Valadao of California is officially on board with the bipartisan proposal, according to a statement from the Congressman sent my way:

“I have been working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common ground on the issue of immigration reform. Recently, I have focused my efforts on joining with likeminded Republicans in organizing and demonstrating to Republican Leadership broad support within the Party to address immigration reform in the House by the end of the year.
“By supporting H.R. 15 I am strengthening my message: Addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait. I am serious about making real progress and will remain committed to doing whatever it takes to repair our broken immigration system.”

Valadao’s move is not wholly unexpected, given that he inhabits a moderate district with a lot of Latinos. But his insistence that addressing immigration reform “cannot wait” is helpful. It seems like an implicit message to the GOP leadership: We must act this year, and on this bill, if necessary.

This comes after GOP Reps. leana Ros-Lehtinen and Jeff Denham Jeff Denham did the same. Denham has said he expects “more” Republicans to ultimately sign on, and has also said that the House GOP leadership told him there will be a vote on something immigration-related by the end of the year.

It’s unclear whether there will actually be a House vote on anything involving immigration before the year runs out, and it seems very unlikely that there will be a vote on the House Dem measure, which is essentially the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, without the Corker-Hoeven border security amendment that House Dems dislike, and instead with another border security amendment House Dems like swapped in.

However, the movement among Republicans towards the Dem bill — even if it is only a trickle for now — is interesting, as a reminder that immigration reform can happen if House GOP leaders actually want it to.

To be sure, immigration reform faces a huge obstacle: The stark underlying structural realities of the House Republican caucus. Far too few Republican members have large enough Latino populations to impact the outcome in 2014. With primaries coming, there just may be no incentive for Republicans to act until after the 2014 elections.

But there are other factors to consider. In some key respects, immigration reform poses its own unique set of political challenges and conditions — it is not quite as polarizing an issue as, say, Obamacare or even the question of whether to agree to new revenues as part of a budget deal. Major GOP aligned constituencies — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, evangelicals, high tech and agricultural interests in the districts of House Republicans – want immigration reform. What’s more, there is a built-in incentive for Republicans to put this issue behind them, given the slow forward march of demographic realities.

Also, as longtime immigration operative Simon Rosenberg explains, Congressional Republicans have a long history of working on this issue. And some polls show that even sizable chunks of Republican voters want comprehensive reform, particularly if it is packaged with border security. Republican pollster Whit Ayres’ research, in particular, has shown that even GOP primary voters want action when informed that the other option is the status quo or “de facto amnesty,” as some pro-reform Republicans put it.

Indeed, if there is anything that can make something happen, it’s the possibility that inaction is far more difficult politically for Republicans than many of them (and many commentators) claim. The immigration problem — “de facto amnesty” is not going away. If more Republicans like these three urge action inside the GOP caucus, it’s not impossible that House GOP leaders will allow votes on border security, the Kids Act, or potentially the legalization proposal that Republicans are said to be working on. That could possibly get us to conference.

Yes, immigration reform remains decidedly undead.

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