Morning Plum: Ted Cruz would love to debate immigration reform in 2015

John Boehner may give this man exactly what he wants. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
John Boehner may give this man exactly what he wants. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

According to multiple reports this morning, House GOP leaders hope to resolve the debt limit standoff with a minimum of drama. This is about avoiding damage to the party heading into 2014, but it’s also about weakening the forces within the GOP that have pushed it into adopting reckless and destructive positions in the past — as evidenced by Boehner’s recent eruption at conservative groups.

Indeed, Roll Call reports that tensions are on the rise between House Republicans and Ted Cruz, with many ripping the Texas Senator for pushing for another round of debt limit brinkmanship at a moment when the party wants to focus on the midterms.

But if John Boehner really wants to weaken Cruz-ism’s influence, he has a very good way to do it: move forward on immigration reform this year.

The Post reports today that conservative groups are mostly standing down on the debt limit this time, apparently resigned to a clean hike. At the same time, some of these same groups are pressuring the leadership very hard not to act on immigration reform. The conventional wisdom holds that this is why Boehner may not act this year. If so, that means the elements in the party that Boehner himself has denounced have not lost their ability to push the party into self-destructive stances. While they may fail to get a debt ceiling hostage crisis, they still hold more sway on the immigration debate than other major GOP-aligned groups, such as the business community, agricultural and tech interests, and evangelicals. Even Boehner probably agrees with those constituencies that not acting on immigration is terrible for his party.

This is where Ted Cruz comes in. Tellingly, Cruz — who is denouncing the new GOP immigration principles as “amnesty” — is openly calling on the party to wait until 2015 to debate immigration reform. The Senator claims this is because Republicans may control the Senate next year — giving them more pull in immigration negotiations. But there may be another reason: Cruz is widely expected to run for president, and he’d surely love an opportunity to demagogue the heck out immigration next year to appeal to a far right chunk of the GOP primary electorate. That could turn the GOP presidential primary into an anti-amnesty sludge fest that could further damage relations with Latinos heading into the general election — exactly as happened in 2012 (see Romney, Mitt, self-deportation).

And so, even if Republicans may surrender on the debt ceiling, on immigration Cruzism is alive and well within the GOP. All indications are that GOP leaders may well capitulate to it, likely leading to a resurgence of it next year, just as the GOP presidential primary heats up. It’s hard to imagine that this is an outcome GOP strategists want, but you can bet Dem strategists won’t mind it all that much.

* GOP PRIMARY POLITICS IMPERILS HEALTH CARE FOR 250,000 PEOPLE: Must-read: The New York Times reports that Arkansas’s plans for its own version of a Medicaid expansion that would expand health care to as many as a quarter of million people may be in trouble. State GOP leaders support the plan, but individual lawmakers under pressure in primaries are balking:

Though Republican legislative leaders support the plan, which would bring $915 million in federal funds to the state this year, any policy linked to the health care law remains anathema to many conservative voters. “Nobody at the State Capitol likes the Affordable Care Act,” said Representative Davy Carter, the Republican House speaker. “But you can’t ignore it and run from it. So we are dealing with the issue with the best interest of the state of Arkansas in mind.”

Wait, what? Even GOP leaders say this would be good for the state, but conservative voters oppose it, anyway? The plan may still survive, the Times notes, and meanwhile, other similar efforts to expand Medicaid (while achieving some distance from Obamacare) are underway in several other states.

* IMMIGRATION ADVOCATES TURN UP VOLUME: In the wake of John Boehner’s suggestion that immigration reform will be difficult this year, Politico reports that immigration groups are planning to ramp up the pressure on House Republicans with new, in-your-face tactics:

A new, more aggressive campaign kicks off Tuesday, when these groups say they will begin confronting Republican lawmakers at public appearances, congressional hearings and events back in home districts. The goal: Shame Republicans in swing districts into taking up the issue — or make them pay at the ballot box in November.

Of course, there are only a few House GOP swing districts with enough Latinos to make a difference in 2014. The question is whether GOP leaders decide scenes of pressure on GOP lawmakers risk making the party look hostage to the nativists in the base.

* PUTTING OFF IMMIGRATION REFORM IS FOLLY FOR GOP: Related to the above item about Ted Cruz: Charlie Cook has a good column noting it’s still possible Republicans could act this year on immigration. The key question is whether Republicans will decide whether to stiff-arm the right wing. This is crucial:

At least one member of the Senate GOP leadership has privately said the reason Republican senators were so willing to pass an immigration bill last year was not the 2014 Senate elections, but the 2016 elections. Not only a presidential-election year, 2016 is when 24 Republican Senate seats will be up (seven in states carried by Obama) and Democrats will have only 10 seats up.

And so, Ted Cruz’s suggestion that it is better for the GOP to wait until next year seems highly doubtful (though it’s good for him, obviously). Bottom line: putting this off could only make things worse.

* KEEP AN EYE ON THE GEORGIA SENATE RACE: GOP Rep. Paul Broun has just picked up a big Tea Party endorsement in the Senate primary, which will fuel Dem hopes that Broun could have a real shot at prevailing. Dems hope to face a Tea Partyer like Broun, because a surprise pickup here would mean Republicans would have to oust as many as four Dem incumbents to take the Senate.

* NO END TO THE DISSEMBLING ABOUT OBAMACARE: Glenn Kessler catches GOP Senator Rob Portman recycling an already-discredited “survey” purporting to show that small businesses are not hiring because of the health law. As Kessler keeps pointing out to no avail, actual data on these matters remains inconclusive, and we simply can’t know what the impact will be without waiting.

It remains jarring that foes of the law are utterly, completely convinced of its collapse — yet feel the need to dissemble endlessly to demonstrate that to be the case.

* SPECIAL ELECTION HEATS UP: The Dem-aligned House Majority PAC is up with a new ad hitting David Jolly, the GOP candidate in Florida’s 13th, for his lobbying work on Social Security for a client who expressed support for privatizing it. Jolly has denied the charges. The ad tests the Dem strategy of hitting Republicans over entitlements, to broaden the attack on Republicans as extreme beyond the Obamacare repeal stance, which is also a factor in this race.

* AND REPUBLICANS DON’T WANT TO DEBATE CBO’S ACTUAL FINDINGS: Brian Beutler has this right: There’s a reason Republicans keep distorting the CBO’s findings; but they’re not going to be able to get away with it much longer:

The media finally seems to have a grasp of the issue, and that means a lot of Republicans are eventually going to have to confront it honestly, in one forum or another, before too long. The two most dominant political narratives in the country intersect right here. One is that Obamacare’s a big mess and a political liability for Democrats. The other is that inequality is a huge national challenge, and the GOP’s existing ideological commitments prevent it from addressing it in any concrete way. The work incentive nonsense draws Republicans straight out of the former, and into the latter. It is fertile breeding ground for 47 percenter contemptuousness.

Right. As noted here yesterday, getting into an argument over whether expanding health care to those who lack it is bad because it saps their work ethic strays perilously close to “free stuff” and “47 percent” turf.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | February 10