The Gang of Eight plan will never satisfy some immigration exclusionists. But no comprehensive immigration plan that includes a path to citizenship (or even legalization without citizenship) is going to win over some GOP senators, including Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas, who have made it clear that they object to the concept of immigration reform insofar as it concerns anything but border security (i.e. any passable legislation).
Given that reality, there are a number of tactical questions the Gang of Eight and other pro-immigration reform advocates need to answer:
1. Do they attempt to beef up the border security measures to try to lure a few more conservatives, such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, or does that simply open up a Pandora’s box, unraveling the Gang of Eight plan?
2. If the Gang of Eight plan is amended to please some conservatives, will House hard-liners still feel compelled to make their own changes? In other words, perhaps real negotiations should wait until the bill gets to the House.
3. Will immigration advocates on the left upset the deal by overreaching (e.g. objecting to the time period until citizenship or weakening the so-called triggers)? And, if they do, will either Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) or the White House take them on?
4. Will the piecemeal approach in the House rightly be seen as fruitless unless one of those pieces concerns a path to citizenship? Let’s get real: Breaking the bill into little chunks only makes sense if right-wing Republicans think they can pass something without legalization provisions, thereby killing immigration reform.
5. Will business, labor and big donors go to bat for the Gang of Eight, not merely running ads but donating or not donating to 2014 candidates depending on their position on immigration? (GOP mega-donor Paul Singer already has put money down on the side of immigration reform.)
6. Will pro-immigration reform evangelicals apply muscle to conservatives to get on board with immigration reform and/or promise to turn out in force and support those conservatives who do support the Gang of Eight?
Attention is shifting to the House. Others agree with our take that the most important person in the entire effort aside from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) might be Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). As the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib writes: “He is a protégé of the late Jack Kemp and once worked for former Kansas governor and senator Sam Brownback, both apostles of the Ronald Reagan school of thought on immigration, which holds that the melting-pot concept is key to American exceptionalism.” To that end, Ryan, he reports, is going out to his district to explain and sell immigration reform.
This last point is key, I think. The polling shows that once the Gang of Eight plan is explained, Republicans support it. If nothing else, Ryan should be going with colleagues, or at least encouraging them to go out to talk to real voters. Turn off the talk radio, avoid right-wing blogs and see if voters agree with Ryan on the common-sense argument at the root of immigration reform: “You ask people, ‘Can we really round up 11 million people and deport them?’ Once you acknowledge we’re not going to be able to round up 11 million people and deport them, then you’re on to, ‘How can we fix the system?’ ” Indeed.
My own take is that, right now, the Gang of Eight bill probably could garner 60 votes in the Senate. (This assumes that 45 to 50 Democrats will support it.) Given that, unless there are relatively small changes that would induce more conservatives to hop on board, it would seem the most effective course would be to get it done in the Senate. Then it could go to the House, and proponents can see what it will take to get support from a majority of Democrats and at least a good portion of the GOP conference. In that, Ryan will be key, as will Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who holds sway with conservatives.
In the meantime, Republican lawmakers would do well to focus on real voters, not the loudest voices in right-wing media. The latter, again and again, have been shown to be unrepresentative of voters, even Republican voters.