For a number of reasons, the current crisis at the border is an argument for broader immigration reform, not against it. The fact that the border debacle has only dimmed whatever chances there were that Republicans would act on reform captures just how perverse the immigration debate in Congress has become.
In keeping with this perversity, then, it is fitting that the ongoing crisis may give House Republicans one more chance to kill comprehensive reform.
Some House Dems are currently exploring whether House procedure can be used to compel one more vote on comprehensive reform, once Republicans offer their proposal to deal with the current border crisis, I’m told. In the end, Dems may not try this — the leadership is not currently entertaining the idea. Even if they do try it, Republicans probably could squash the effort before any vote happens, but if Republicans did this, the big picture would be that they are once again refusing to legislate to solve the broader crisis the country faces, this time with the ongoing border disaster unfolding as a backdrop.
Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein outlines a route by which Dems could try to procedurally force the bigger issue. House Republicans are expected to offer a proposal that combines less funding to address the crisis than Obama wants, with some form of changes to the 2008 trafficking law, to speed up removals. Ornstein notes that any such changes to the law — as opposed to mere appropriating in the form of giving Obama money — could procedurally open the door to Dems offering a “motion to recommit with instructions” which would attach the House version of comprehensive immigration reform to the House GOP effort.
The House version of reform — H.R. 15 — is essentially the Senate reform bill, with a different border security measure swapped in.
The procedural details are very complicated and contested. But the short version is that if House Democrats decided to be very aggressive, they could at least try to force such a motion to recommit — a tactic, Ornstein notes, that Republicans used very aggressively when they were in the minority, to force Democrats to take all kinds of politically unpleasant votes.
“Once Republicans legislate by changing the substance of the law, Democrats have a strong case for amending it in their own way,” Ornstein says. “There is one weapon available to the minority in the House: The motion to recommit. Democrats should push hard for a motion that includes comprehensive reform, and put Republicans on notice: Either they are going to deal with it, or they are going to kill it again.”
The dream outcome would be that such a thing somehow gets to the floor, putting a handful of vulnerable Republicans in tough districts in a tough spot and forcing the House GOP to vote down reform. But of course getting that far is an extreme long shot, because Republicans likely would procedurally kill such a move at the level of the Rules Committee or in some other fashion. But it’s still worth doing, Ornstein says: “Even if it gets killed, Democrats can frame it as, ‘Republicans had another chance to do comprehensive immigration reform, and they killed it again.’”
The basic point here is that this could offer an opening for Dems to procedurally push the envelope. “Democrats haven’t used all the weapons available to them — this is an opportunity,” Ornstein says.
Such a move would inevitably be dismissed as a stunt. According to the strange unwritten rules governing much Beltway discourse, it’s not “Serious” when Dems try to force House Republicans to actually vote on things they say they support doing in principle (such as immigration reform) but won’t legislate to bring about. But the American people agree the current mess makes acting on reform more important: A new Pew poll finds that 61 percent now say passing reform is important, up from 49 percent in February. A large majority of Republicans agrees with this, and a majority of Republicans also supports a path to citizenship — facts that should lead commentators to crucify GOP lawmakers for failing to act, but won’t.
Indeed, as Brian Beutler has explained, the GOP willingness to act in the short term but not in the long term is extremely difficult to justify. Republicans are willing to spend a few billion to address the current crisis but won’t embrace reform that would reduce the deficit by hundreds of billions, by bringing the 11 million out of the shadows, while systematically fixing the bigger crisis, rather than simply patching up the short-term one.
Jill Lawrence argues Republicans would actually be doing themselves a long-term favor by seizing on this crisis as a hook to reverse course and embrace a long term reform compromise. That would be nice, but it isn’t going to happen. The absurdity and perversity on display here run deep. And Dems have little choice but to do what they can to shine as much light as possible into those depths.
UPDATE: I don’t want to overstate the likelihood of this happening. House Democratic leaders are not actively considering the idea, because Republicans have not offered up a bill yet. However, some rank and file Dems are thinking about the strategy — as is Norm Ornstein — and may soon urge House Dem leaders to consider it. I’ve edited the text above slightly to reflect this.