The Morning Plum: GOP leaders stiff-arm the nativists

So House Republicans have now released their principles on immigration reform, and they rule out a “special path to citizenship,” while providing for undocumented immigrants to “live legally and without fear in the U.S.,” but only after “specific enforcement triggers have been implemented.”

It’s dispiriting that Republicans have ruled out a path to citizenship. But it’s important to understand how much of a shift these principles nonetheless represent. Less than two years ago, the de facto party-wide position — echoed by the 2012 GOP presidential nominee — was self deportation, i.e., doing everything possible to get them the hell out of here. Now the party’s operating principle is that they should all stay, provided certain conditions are met — a real change from pandering to GOP base nativists to stiff-arming them in a big way. As the New York Times puts it today: “From absolute denial to the brink of grudging acceptance is a big step away from neo-nativism.”

The key unknowns now: Will Republicans insist on prohibitively onerous triggers before legalization? Will Republicans ultimately insist reform must preclude citizenship for the 11 million? Will Republicans support steps to clear out some of the existing legal channels to citizenship, making legalization (without a “special pathway” to citizenship) a somewhat better deal for Democrats? If the first two are Yes, those are probably deal-killers. If the third is Yes, therein lies the possibility for a deal.

But all of this will be settled by a larger question: Do Republicans think they need an actual policy agenda — actual policy accomplishments — to win in 2014?

The initial reporting tells us many House Republicans angrily rejected the new principles. Their rationales ranged from distrust for Obama to a belief that engaging in difficult legislative initiatives right now is a mistake because it could upset an Obamacare-heavy political environment that makes victory in 2014 more likely.

As Ron Brownstein puts it: “observers would be surprised if Republicans in Congress, believing that the botched Obamacare rollout has provided them the 2014 edge, throw Obama the lifeline of any big legislative accomplishments.”

And so, it is not snark to ask whether Republicans think they need a serious policy agenda to win in 2014. It is actually the central question that will decide what happens on immigration this year. Many Republicans really do appear to believe too much policy-making will hurt their chances, while doing less will improve them.

Meanwhile, it’s telling that Republicans are already citing distrust of Obama as a reason to oppose the GOP leadership’s own principles. If Republicans decide not to cross the bridges necessary to get to compromise on reform, the idea that the president can’t be trusted will be the excuse. It will be the reason why Republicans insist on overly onerous border security triggers before legalization — Obama won’t enforce the law! — which could prove the ground upon which reform dies. And if this does happen, it will be because many Republicans in the House decided the party doesn’t need to prove they can govern on this issue to win in the near term.

* OBAMA SIGNALS FLEXIBILITY ON IMMIGRATION REFORM: In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, the president refused to say whether he would veto a reform solution that does not include a special pathway to citizenship. He said:

“I’m not going to prejudge what gets to my desk.”

This, again, is a reminder where the possibility for a deal lies.

* CONSERVATIVES PUSH ALTERNATIVE TO OBAMACARE: The New York Times has a good overview of the divisions emerging in the GOP as they try to decide whether to craft an agenda on health care and immigration in advance of the 2014 elections. Note this from the House GOP retreat:

On the Affordable Care Act, conservatives pushed the party to coalesce around a single alternative to the law that would come to a House vote this year. Moderates resisted that position over concern that it would open a line of Democratic attack that would deflect from what they see as the failings of the president’s health care law.

The division here is interesting. Conservatives are the ones who want the party to coalesce around an alternative, perhaps because they want to keep up the fight for repeal most. Moderates are content to let the certain collapse of the law lift them to victory, and would prefer not offering their own affirmative agenda.

* CATHY McMORRIS-RODGERS HATES OBAMACARE, BUT HER CONSTITUENTS DON’T: Timothy Egan has a must read about the district of GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, whose response to the State of the Union address lamented victims of Obamacare. It turns out her own constituents disagree:

In her district, people are flocking to Obamacare — well beyond the national average. Though she has been screening town hall meetings to highlight only critics of the new law, her constituents are doing something entirely different in making their personal health decisions. In Spokane County, the most populous in the Fifth Congressional District with nearly half a million people, the rate of participation in the new health care law is even well above the state average. At the end of December, signups were 102 percent of the state target.

As always, if state officials want Obamacare to work, it works. Yet those benefitting from the law right in her own district matter far less than those supposedly getting hurt by it. Along those lines, Paul Krugman takes apart the specific tale of one Obamacare victim McRodgers highlighted on Tuesday night.

* HOW DEMS ARE REACHING OUT TO WOMEN: A smart report from National Journal: Democrats are fusing two issues — the minimum wage hike and gender pay equity — in order to create a broader pocket-book message with special appeal to women. The key stat proponents of this strategy cite is this one: “two-thirds of people earning the federal minimum wage or less are women.”

Getting out the Dem base is key to Dem chances in multiple tough Senate races, and the heavy emphasis on pocketbook issues is key to mobilizing the single moms and low-income women who are central to that goal.

* MINIMUM WAGE VOTE SET FOR MARCH: Roll Call reports that the Senate will vote in March on raising the minimum wage to $10.10. That basically ensures the debate over the issue will be in full swing just as the 2014 elections are heating up. As best as I can tell, Democrats really do think it’s at least possible (if highly unlikely) to get it through the Senate. If so, that would put House Republicans in a position of either not allowing a vote on the measure or voting it down.

* HOW OBAMA CAN SECURE HIS LEGACY: Ron Brownstein has a smart column arguing that while executive action won’t be enough to seriously improve the economy, there is a straightforward way for Obama to secure his legacy: Successfully implement Obamacare, and use bold executive action on climate change.

Completing the two regulations the Environmental Protection Agency is writing to limit carbon emissions from new and existing power plants would change how America uses energy more than anything else the president might do. Once completed, those rules would impel a historic shift away from coal for generating electricity toward lower-carbon options such as natural gas and renewables.

And if the Affordable Care Act is successfully implemented, those two achievements together would add up to enormous achievements.

* REPUBLICANS TURN ON IRAQ WAR: A new USA Today/Pew poll finds:

On Iraq, Americans by 52%-37% say the United States mostly failed to achieve its goals…The biggest shift in attitudes toward the Iraq War came among Republicans and those who lean to the GOP. In 2011, 65% of them said the war had succeeded; now just 38% do. A double-digit gap between Republican and Democrat views in 2011 has now been largely erased.

Laura Rozen tweets that GOP attitudes toward the war “surely echoed in U.S. reluctance to intervene in Syria” and ”in favor of Iran diplomacy.”

* AND THE FACTOID OF THE DAY, BRIDGEGATE EDITION: This is a really striking finding from a new Quinnipiac poll: 78 percent of Florida voters have heard or read about Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal. While a majority says it won’t impact their vote, it seems voters far away from New Jersey are aware of the story, and of course, it could still get much, much worse.

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