Strength in numbers on immigration reform

In the Senate, the numbers may add up to a comfortable win on immigration reform. If Democrats stick with the “Gang of Eight” plan, almost all of the 55 Dems in the Senate should support it; add in the four Republicans in the Gang of Eight, plus some moderates and conservative reformers, and one can imagine a clear-cut victory.

Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The House is more problematic. But surely Republican reformers can come up with some improvements to address legitimate concerns on national security and border security (e.g. requiring a portion of the fence to be actually built). But the real question is whether Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is willing to bring to the floor not a piecemeal, border protection-only bill (of the type the House Judiciary Committee is busying itself with) but rather something that is comprehensive and can be meshed with the Senate plan. That might irritate his right-wing contingent (the folks who vote against the budget deals, the fiscal-cliff deal and most everything else), but he’s stared them down, or shaved their numbers, in the past for the sake of bipartisan compromise.

It is interesting that the GOP 2016 hopefuls are generally on board with immigration reform. As the Wall Street Journal reported: “Many of [Marco Rubio's] potential 2016 rivals — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — are marching in the same direction.” That is convincing party insiders that “immigration is becoming a less toxic issue on the right, in part because the leading figures now pushing for change have sway with so many wings of the party.”

Messrs. Rubio and Paul both came to Washington amid the 2010 GOP wave and retain high credibility among conservatives. The Kentucky senator also has corralled the libertarian following of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. …

“The rhetorical race to the bottom on who can be toughest on immigration reform is pretty much gone,” said Jennifer Korn, a pro-immigration activist who tried to muster conservative support for an immigration overhaul as a Bush White House official in 2007.

This doesn’t mean the Senate bill will pass or that some with their eyes on 2016 might not opportunistically go right to appeal to the anti-immigration portion of the base. But many governors, starting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have indicated a willingness to address comprehensive reform. Without specifically embracing the Gang of Eight plan, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said that he also favors a comprehensive plan, as do Republican Govs. Rick Snyder (Mich.), Susana Martinez (N.M.) and Brian Sandoval (Nev.).

It may be that these potential presidential candidates are leaders precisely because they are savvy enough to see around corners and recognize the confluence of good policy and politics — in other words, the sort of forward-looking candidates who would see the utility of immigration reform. Or you could say that immigration reform is a must -do for presidential aspirants simply because, in a general election, an anti-immigration candidate can’t win the presidency. It wouldn’t be the first time that political expediency, good policy and smart politics coincided.

Sure, anti-immigration zealots might make a run for 2016, but does anyone think anti-contraception advocate and 2012 loser Rick Santorum and unpolished neophyte Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) are really presidential contenders?

In essence, immigration reform is helping to separate the serious national Republicans from the deep-red-state lawmakers (and/or the crackpots) who never have to worry about a diverse electorate and love the adoration of the right-wing media. It is, to say the least, a clarifying moment.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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Jennifer Rubin | April 29, 2013