November 13, 2013

John Boehner, at a presser just now, just said something that pushed immigration reform closer to death than anything he has said thus far:

House Speaker John Boehner says he will not allow any House-passed immigration legislation to be blended with the Senate’s sweeping reform bill, further quashing the chances of comprehensive immigration reform legislation being signed into law anytime soon.

“We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday.

At the presser, Boehner also refused to say whether any of the piecemeal proposals reportedly being developed by House Republicans will get a vote this year, which means they almost certainly won’t. He did say that GOP Rep Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, “is working with our members and across the aisle on developing a set of principles for us to deal with this issue.”

But if Boehner really means that Republicans will not “ever” go to conference on the Senate bill, it’s very hard to see a path to comprehensive reform. Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, emails me this:

“If Boehner kills off immigration reform, he’s going to go down as the Speaker who helped kill off the GOP.  If he doesn’t promise to go to conference, he won’t be able to get Democrats to vote for any immigration measures, and he won’t be able to pass them with just Republican votes. He’s painting himself into a corner with procedural concessions to the far right, where failure is the only possible outcome. If he keeps to this, he’s dooming reform. Let’s hope he wants a legacy that includes growing the economy and saving his party.”

The point here is this. The House GOP leadership will never hold a vote on any comprehensive reform package that includes legalization or citizenship. So the only way forward is if House Republicans pass piecemeal provisions — border security measures, plus some sort of legalization proposal for the 11 million, or barring that, the Kids Act (which gives citizenship only to the DREAMers). That would be a route to comprehensive reform if it provided a way to get to conference.

Boehner doesn’t want anything the House passes to be seen as a vehicle for going to conference, because conservatives will revolt. But here is the rub:  House Republicans, on their own, probably can’t pass anything that addresses the 11 million — and may not even be able to pass the KIDS Act — if it is seen as a vehicle for going to conference, since conservatives would resist at all costs.  So Democrats would be needed to pass any such proposals. But Democrats will only vote for such proposals with an assurance that we would then go to conference. And so, by ruling out conference, Boehner may have just closed off the last remaining route to getting reform done.

There has been a lot of talk lately about how the GOP establishment is going to wage war on the hard-liners inside the GOP that are forcing unelectable candidates and deeply unpopular positions on the party. Immigration reform, however, is a clear cut case where this vow isn’t mattering in the slightest.

Many of the same constituencies within the GOP who are warning against letting the hard liners’ demand for a Total War against Obamacare drag the party into situations like the recent shutdown debacle – the business community, the professional consultant establishment, etc. — are the same ones who are urging the party to adopt immigration reform, for the long term good of the GOP. But it isn’t happening. We are not getting immigration reform if House GOP leaders are not willing to get the anti-amnesty-at-all-costs crowd a bit riled up at some point in the process. Boehner’s quotes today suggest they just aren’t willing to do that, whatever the long term costs to the party.

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