In the midst of the finger-pointing last week, USA Today reported that House Democrats introduced an immigration bill of their own, matching in large part the Senate-passed comprehensive reform bill.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), second from left (Bill O'Leary/Washington Post)
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), second from left, has shown interest in immigration reform.
(Bill O’Leary/Washington Post)

That’s a no-go with House Republicans but it might spur them to at least produce a plan by year’s end:

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee that oversees much of the immigration legislation moving through that chamber, said the bill introduced by the Democrats on Wednesday “is basically the Senate bill. I strongly oppose the Senate bill.”

Critics saw the Democrats’ bill as a political ploy to pressure Republicans and show groups advocating for a new immigration law that Democrats are fighting for one.

The House Republicans vowed to keep up with their piecemeal approach, with the speaker’s spokesman promising, “Once Washington Democrats allow us to reopen the federal government, House Republicans will continue to work on common-sense, step-by-step reforms to our broken immigration system.” And Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, was even more emphatic according to a Politico report, telling Univision. “I believe that we have a window here between now and the end of the  year and that this is a priority. . . . We must pass immigration reform. It’s a priority for Republicans, for Democrats. There’s a  recognition that it’s important to America. It’s important to our economy.  America has long been the land of immigrants.”

Well, in the short term it’s increasingly difficult to see how Congress could agree upon and pass legislation this year. But for Republicans, it is certainly possible that legislation embracing a variety of topics (high- and low-skilled workers, border security, employer verification) will pass, perhaps even one including DREAM legislation. If the continuing resolution and debt-ceiling fights go downhill fast for the GOP, leadership may be more eager to have a positive accomplishment to point to in the 2014 elections.

On one level, simply passing something through the House without getting to conference or final legislation doesn’t accomplish much. But at least Republican-passed legislation would have put something out and the notion that “doing nothing is fine” would be undermined. Coupled with the Senate-based bill, House legislation would then become a starting point for future legislative compromises.

The shutdown and debt-ceiling fights likely will affect the timing and fate of immigration reform legislation. Many of the shutdown squad members — obviously excluding Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who seems chastened (even disoriented) by the anti-immigration reform pushback – and House radicals are also hardliners on the CR and debt ceiling, whereas a number of Republicans who warned against the CR fiasco want something done on immigration reform (e.g. Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan). A setback for the Republican absolutists on the CR/debt ceiling may loosen their grip on immigration reform while emboldening moderates to stake out a viable approach to immigration reform.

In other words, adult leadership is self-perpetuating and nihilism is contagious. If right-wingers strike pay dirt on the current batch of issues, they’ll be no getting by them on immigration reform. However, if the president doesn’t magically succumb to pressure and Obamacare isn’t delayed or defunded, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his ilk will lose some sway over fellow Republicans, in fact serving to remind them that his brand of rhetoric and anti-reform politics is deadly for the GOP.

If I’m right, then maybe in the aftermath of a bruising and self-defeating shutdown battle, Republicans will collect themselves to formulate reasoned proposals on immigration. That would be wise, given that a great number of Americans have the impression the GOP is irresponsible and uninterested in governing well.

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