June 12, 2013
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

As Politico reports, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been pushing for an immigration bill that can win 70 votes in the Senate, and that such a result would “send a message” to House Republicans and increase the pressure on them to allow the bill to pass.

I think that gets it precisely backwards. It’s probably correct that a Senate bill that can win about 20 of the 46 Republicans will pass the House — not because the Senate results will influence the House, but because the same things that would produce 20 Republican votes for a bill in the Senate would also indicate that mainstream conservatives want the bill to pass. And if mainstream conservatives want this bill to pass (even if it means having it pass over their “no” votes), it will pass.

At this point, all the serious substantive issues have probably been hammered out. What remains is a basic choice for conservative Republican politicians: Are they more concerned about long-term damage to their party from alienating Latino voters, or are the more concerned about anti-immigrant activists who might help a primary opponent catch fire against them?  In other words, the immediate pressure that’s going to matter for Republicans is from tea partiers and other conservatives, who, for all anyone knows, will be even more upset with the party if a bill comes out of the Senate with more Republican votes.

To put it another way: Conservatives can’t possible get any cover for this one, because everyone can be certain that most high-profile conservative senators will oppose the bill, and so a “no” vote will surely be the safe one for members mainly concerned with primary opponents. The only question, as it has been from the start, is whether their concerns about the national Republican Party will override that fear (and, to be fair, they also may be interested in supporting business allies who want a bill, and may even just believe it’s good policy).

None of that will go away, not even a little bit, with more Republican votes in the Senate. But it’s fairly unlikely that the bill will get those Republican senators unless the calculation for Republicans in the House is pretty much the same.