July 10, 2013
Naturalization ceremony. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A new citizen at a naturalization ceremony.(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The general sense among Hill reporters seems to be that comprehensive immigration reform is either dead or close to death — although there are some dissenters. For the most part, I’ll stick with what I’ve been saying all year: It’s unlikely that the majority of House Republicans will publicly support a comprehensive bill. Nevertheless, it’s certainly possible that a majority of House Republicans will want a bill to pass, even if they want to vote against it; and therefore, whatever anyone says along the way, the most likely way it passes — if it passes — is with mostly Democratic votes, but (quietly) sanctioned by most Republicans. Moreover, since no one whose preferred outcome is that the bill passes over their “no” vote is going to admit that publicly, there’s a bias here towards reporting that the bill will fail.

And it might well fail!

What’s striking to me, so far, is what I didn’t really expect: To the extent the bill is doomed, it doesn’t seem to be because of a hostile reaction from the grass roots. Basically, the mechanisms that can presumably order up a backlash — the talk radio hosts, Fox News, perhaps even organized tea party groups — aren’t going full-out to create one, and, as far as I can tell, rank-and-file voters aren’t doing it by themselves, either.

On the other hand, I don’t get the sense that the nominal supporters of a comprehensive bill — either the business interests or Republican strategists who believe that the party needs to get the issue off the table — are going all-out, either. Well, in the Senate, Marco Rubio and the other “Gang” members did, but on the House side? Paul Ryan of Wisconsin seems to be the most important supporter, and he’s working behind the scenes. Meanwhile, most of the interest group supporters seem (at least from what I see) more scared of their shadows than they are of a bill failing.

And that matters, quite possibly decisively.

It gets to something very important to know about legislating. Yes, counting votes matters. But intensity also matters. There are plenty of bills that have theoretical majorities but never go anywhere, either because of strong opposition or, even deadlier, a lack of strong support.

What it comes down to is that comprehensive immigration reform probably can be saved — but only if those Republican politicians, Republican operatives and Republican-aligned interest groups who support it are willing to go all-out, and not just behind closed doors, to get it.