Wonkbook: Immigration reform isn’t about Marco Rubio. It’s about John Boehner.

June 18, 2013

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(Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)
(Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)

On immigration reform, Washington keeps asking the same question: WWMRD? What will Marco Rubio do?

This is a boring question.

Rubio is making a show of his Hamlet-like agonizing over the bill and trying to very publicly use his leverage to pull the legislation to the right. But unless the effort collapses he's going to vote for the Senate's final product.

The reason, simply, is it would be a disaster for him to abandon it. After all, he was one of the guys who wrote it, and he was the key player in selling it. If he walks away he's just made everyone mad. He's angered conservatives who will blame him for pushing immigration reform in the first place. He's infuriated Latinos who will blame him for the destruction of the bill. He's unveiled himself to voters as the conservative Republican who was leading immigration reform until all of a sudden he got scared and wasn't for it anymore. He's poisoned the well with the senators who worked with him on the effort.

It's hard to run for president when the sole major legislative initiative you led ended with you inexplicably voting against it. And it's hard to be a successful senator when no one believes they can trust you to see something difficult through to the finish line. Unless the effort falls completely apart, Rubio will vote for the bill because voting against it would be a catastrophe for his career.

The better question, at least right now, is WWBGD? What will Bob Goodlatte do?

Goodlatte is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. That gives him jurisdiction over immigration. And unlike Rubio he's not built his career on supporting immigration reform. Rather the opposite, actually.

Goodlatte's strategy is to pass immigration reform in pieces, beginning with extremely tough border security measures and only possibly ending in some kind of path to citizenship. "I feel very good about producing good, solid legislation that addresses these problems before we jump to the conclusions about what kind of legal status should be given to people who are not legally present in the United States," he told Lou Dobbs on Fox Business News.

Goodlatte's strategy is complicated by the revival of the House's bipartisan group of seven (which, as of a week ago, was a group of eight, but then lost Rep. Raul Labrador). After a few near-death experiences, they're coming out with they're own compromise bill. But whereas Goodlatte's Senate counterpart, Patrick Leahy, was happy to make the Gang of Eight's bill the core vehicle that the Judiciary Committee considered, Goodlatte hasn't made any similar commitment to move any bipartisan proposal that might emerge from the Gang of Seven.

Which is why, ultimately, the question that really matters is WWJBD? What will John Boehner do?

If Boehner wants the bipartisan bill to move, it will move. But in some ways, that matters less than what Boehner wants with the final bill. Any piece of House legislation, after all, will have to be worked out in conference with the Senate, and is likely to emerge looking like the Senate bill in important ways. That legislation can be one of Goodlatte's piece or it can be the bipartisan bill. The tough part is what happens when the unified bill comes back to the House.

The question then is whether Boehner is open to bringing that legislation to the House floor even if a majority of House Republicans don't want to vote for it. Anonymous sources tell the Washington Examiner that Boehner would never do such a thing, but the speaker himself has been more equivocal in public, and the truth is he probably doesn't know what he will or won't do this far in advance -- it'll depend on how the politics look, and how his members feel, in the endgame. But that's the question that most in the Senate and in the House think really matters.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 8 points. That's how much President Barack Obama's approval rating has fallen in CNN's polling over the last month. 45 percent of respondents now give him thumbs up, versus 54 percent giving him thumbs down.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: The usefulness of pie charts, in two pie charts.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) optimism and pessimism on immigration; 2) Obama interviewed; 3) it's decision time for the Supreme Court; 4) the echoes of monetary tapering; and 5) IRS to recommend policy changes.

1) Top story: Shoot high, or low, on immigration reform?

60 votes, not 70, is new goal for immigration reform vote in Senate. "Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday it would be a “big mistake” for the Senate Gang of Eight to make several concessions to Republicans in order to get at least 70 votes for the immigration bill. Asked during a CBS interview Monday whether the bill needed 70 votes, Durbin (D-Ill.) answered flatly: “No, we need 60.”" Seung Min Kim in Politico.

House outlook brightens for immigration reform. "The House bipartisan group, which has labored for four years without releasing anything, is finally on the verge of producing a bill. The House Judiciary Committee is holding its first immigration markup on Tuesday on an enforcement-centered bill that Democrats abhor. Negotiators have to meet again for the finishing touches and to review the language that has come back from the House legislative counsel." Seung Min Kim in Politico.

Graph: How the language the news media uses about immigrants has changedEmily Guskin in Pew Research.

...And Senate Democrats want to move faster. "With the legislation’s backers hoping to win Senate approval before members of Congress leave for the Fourth of July, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, warned that the Senate could be held in session over the weekend if there was no progress soon...After getting hung up last week on the number of votes an amendment would need to pass, Senate leaders said Monday night that they had struck a deal for votes on at least four proposals Tuesday, including one on citizenship for children adopted internationally. All will require 60 votes to pass." Carl Hulse in The New York Times.

@hillhulse: Sen Reid pulls out the old working weekend threat if Senate doesn't start voting on immigration amendments soon.

...But Speaker Boehner is under pressure from conservatives not to play nice. "Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) warned Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would face a conference revolt that could threaten his Speakership if he allows a House vote on the immigration bill presently being debated in the Senate." Jonathan Easley in The Hill.

Round 3 for immigration reform, meet Sen. Sessions, who won Rounds 1 and 2. "Senator Jeff Sessions, an elfin Alabamian with a mischievous smile and a relentless approach to legislative battle, has a theory about the sweeping immigration bill pending in the Senate: It’s as good as dead...[I]n Mr. Sessions, they face an opponent with experience, one who reminds his staff every day that passage of immigration legislation was supposed to be inevitable in 2006 as well, and even more so in 2007. His tactics are the same as they were back then: organize the opposition, break down the bill section by section, raise questions over every aspect of it, slow progress on the floor to a crawl through procedural objections and a flurry of amendments, and hope that in the light of day a conservative backlash will crush final passage." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

@justinwolfers: Attending a naturalization ceremony provides a compelling argument for immigration reform. Each one makes the US a stronger nation.

Director of enforcement agency resigns. "John T. Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security agency in charge of controlling illegal immigration, announced Monday that he was stepping down after four years to work for a private bank...Mr. Morton was responsible for changing the direction of the agency, known as ICE, and its 20,000 employees, by refocusing on deporting convicted criminals and serial visa violators, while steering away from undocumented immigrants who did not have criminal records." Julia Preston in The New York Times.

Music recommendations interlude: R.E.M., "Superman," 1986.

Top op-eds

BERNSTEIN: Economic text and subtext. "At times like this, there’s a risk that the economy’s doing well, except for most of the people in it.  To understand how the recovery is playing out in different people’s lives, you’ve got to ask: just whose fundamentals are improving?" Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.

KLEIN: You don't know what America will look like in 2043, and neither does the government. "To put it another way, a central insight of conservatism is that the government isn’t very good at predicting the future, and then is slow or even unable to respond when its predictions prove incorrect. If you think the government can usefully forecast the economy 30 years into the future, then that should unlock a deep confidence in the merits of central planning." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

...And Congress is unpopular, but should anybody care? "To make a slightly more serious point here, there’s a structural reason Congress is so much less popular than any other major institution in American life: It’s divided against itself. People often like their own representatives, and they even like the members of Congress from their party. But if you’re a Republican who voted for Republicans in Congress you’re angry because the Democrats control the Senate. If you’re a Democrat who voted for Democrats for Congress you’re angry because of the House Republicans. Periods of divided government give everyone a reason to be angry." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

SOLTAS: Are free-trade agreements actually protectionist? "Economists are often mocked for free-trade worship, but they're skeptical when appropriate. Jacob Viner, a University of Chicago economist, argued in 1950 that free-trade agreements don’t necessarily promote free trade. Trade deals have two effects, he said: They create trade by lowering the cost of international exchange, but they also divert it by the selective reduction of barriers. Whether the first or the second effect predominates determines whether the deal is good or bad." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

GERSON: Conservative reformism and its challenges. "It is often argued, including by me, that the GOP needs its own Bill Clinton or Tony Blair — a leader to reposition the party and reinvigorate its political appeal. But if these figures are examples of successful reform, British Prime Minister David Cameron is a warning of its perils. Cameron set out to modernize the Conservative Party. He has found that not everyone is happy to be modernized." Michael Gerson in The Washington Post.

PONNURU: Supreme Court must remember what deference means. "As the Supreme Court nears the end of its term, the big decisions we are still waiting for concern race and marriage. These decisions offer the court an opportunity to exercise an unwonted self-restraint...What the court should do is show deference in all these cases, which means siding with the conservatives on marriage and with the liberals on voting rights." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.

FELDMAN: Clarence Thomas's legal time machine zooms to 1789. "Don’t let the U.S. Supreme Court’s very contemporary cases on gene patenting and same-sex marriage fool you: At least one justice is still living in the 18th century and doesn’t care who knows it." Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.

BROOKS: Beyond the brain. "It’s a pattern as old as time. Somebody makes an important scientific breakthrough, which explains a piece of the world. But then people get caught up in the excitement of this breakthrough and try to use it to explain everything...From personal experience, I can tell you that you get captivated by it and sometimes go off to extremes, as if understanding the brain is the solution to understanding all thought and behavior." David Brooks in The New York Times.

SUNSTEIN: Republicans and Democrats agree on facts, at least if you pay them to. "Recent studies by Yale University’s John Bullock and his co-authors suggest that with respect to facts, Democrats and Republicans disagree a lot less than we might think. True, surveys reveal big differences. But if people are given economic rewards for giving the right answer, the partisan divisions start to become a lot smaller. Here’s the kicker: With respect to facts, there is a real difference between what people say they believe and what they actually believe." Cass Sunstein in Bloomberg.

Self-recommending interlude: An amazingly detailed paper replica of the 'Friends' set.

2) Obama's interview

Obama says NSA programs are making the right trade-offs. "President Obama defended his administration’s right to engage in extensive surveillance of U.S. communications in an interview with PBS host Charlie Rose, saying the programs had disrupted multiple terrorist plots and had adequate checks and balances. During the interview — which was conducted Sunday before Obama left for Europe and was set to air Monday night — the president took pains to distinguish his national security approach from those of former president George W. Bush and former vice president Richard B. Cheney." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Explainer: The 9 most important quotes from Obama’s Charlie Rose interview. Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Longread: In this week's New Yorker, Jill Lepore writes on PRISM. Excerpt: "As a matter of historical analysis, the relationship between secrecy and privacy can be stated in an axiom: the defense of privacy follows, and never precedes, the emergence of new technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the case for privacy always comes too late. The horse is out of the barn. The post office has opened your mail. Your photograph is on Facebook. Google already knows that, notwithstanding your demographic, you hate kale."

Sen. Feinstein: No NSA hearing yet. "On Tuesday the House will hold a rare open intelligence hearing specifically devoted to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs of data-mining phone records and Internet use. But Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said her committee is waiting on more information from the NSA before proceeding on pulling back the blinds on the programs, so far as the intel community will allow." Burgess Everett in Politico.

Surveillance programs create chasm among Democrats. "Have Democratic voters become more accepting of surveillance tactics after blasting them during the Bush administration? Or could this become the 2016 version of the 2008 Democratic Party brawl over who voted for the Iraq War, a debate that helped sink Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and elect Barack Obama? It is too soon to say." Maggie Haberman in Politico.

Chart parody interlude: The usefulness of pie charts, in two pie charts.

3) Supreme Court hands down major decisions

Supreme Court says states may not add citizenship proof for voter registration. "The court rejected a requirement passed by Arizona voters in 2004 that potential voters supply proof of eligibility beyond an applicant’s oath on the federal form that he or she is a citizen. The court ruled 7 to 2 that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 trumps Arizona’s Proposition 200. The federal law “precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Read the opinions: The Supreme Court rules against proof-of-citizenship requirements for votingIt rules lawyers can’t use DMV records to find clients. It rules that judges can’t impose mandatory minimums on their ownIt rules against big pharmaIt rules prosecutors can use a suspect’s silence as evidence of guiltDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

...It let regulators sue over 'pay-for-delay' drug deals. "In a 5-to-3 vote, the justices effectively said that the Federal Trade Commission can sue pharmaceutical companies for potential antitrust violations, a decision that is likely to increase the number of generic drugs in the marketplace and benefit consumers...The decision is likely to create considerable uncertainty in the drug business and shift an important balance of power to the generic companies, industry analysts said." Edward Wyatt in The New York Times.

...And it limited the right to remain silent. "The court ruled that a suspect’s failure to answer a police officer’s questions before an arrest may be used against the suspect at trial. The Supreme Court has long said the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination applies after arrest and at trial. But it had never decided, in the words of a 1980 decision, “whether or under what circumstances pre-arrest silence” in the face of questioning by law enforcement personnel is entitled to protection." Adam Liptak in The New York Times.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona won’t put an end to voting wars. "[T]he decision actually doesn’t settle this debate once and for all, explains Rick Hasen, an election-law expert at the University of California at Irvine. “The opinion opens up a huge number of questions about federal power over elections,” says Hasen. Indeed, the opinion, written by Antonin Scalia, could actually give states more leeway to put in place tougher voter-registration restrictions in the years ahead." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Not really extraterrestrial interlude: In NYC, 2nd Ave. subway construction looks like moonscape.

4) Fed tapering echoes through economy

What the Fed tapering debate and Justin Bieber have in common. "[T]he frenzied speculation is misunderstanding what the decision to taper means. As such, ordinary investors might do themselves a lot of good by turning off the TV and shutting off their news feed between now and, say, Thursday. Because there isn’t a lot that the Fed, or Ben Bernanke in his post-meeting news conference, are likely to tell us that will actually answer the question of when the Fed’s easy money policies are going to end. Like people obsessing over a boyish pop star, it’s a lot of huffing and puffing and use of mental energy that amounts to not much of anything." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Crossed signals over Fed’s stimulus efforts. "Investors increasingly have focused on predicting the moment the Fed will start to pull back on its massive stimulus program, causing more volatility in stocks and bond markets. Could it come as early as this week, when the central bank’s policymaking committee meets in Washington? Or will the Fed wait until the end of the year, when the fiscal drag is expected to have run its course? Will it make the announcement with a news conference or forge ahead with little explanation?" Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

...Rising interest rates may lead to a reorganization of the corporate bond market. "[M]arket operators are urgently promoting ways to make it easier to trade corporate bonds, in case an eventual change in Fed policy causes investors to dump more of their holdings in a hurry. BlackRock is urging companies to put bond issuance on a regular schedule, just as the US Treasury does with government bond sales, and standardise corporate bonds. The idea is that, the more comparable these investments are, the more willing people will be to trade them in the secondary market." Stephen Foley, Vivianne Rodrigues and Tracy Alloway in The Financial Times.

...But U.S. homebuilders sound cheery. "Confidence among US homebuilders surged in June to its highest level in seven years as more Americans rushed through house purchases hoping to take advantage of low mortgage interest rates. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index of builder sentiment rose to 52, from 44 in May – the biggest monthly increase since September 2002 – and beating expectations of 45.Anjli Raval in The Financial Times.

Romney economic adviser defends the '1 percent.' "In an essay titled “Defending the 1%,” former Romney economist Greg Mankiw imagines an economically egalitarian society and then explains how difficult it would be to maintain. Economic inequality, Mankiw argues, is the expected result of a society that prioritizes skill-biased technological change." Ruth Tam in The Washington Post.

Volunteering lifts the prospects of the unemployed. "Unemployed Americans stand a much better chance of finding a paying job if they first work for free. That is the key finding from a new federal study that is billed as the first empirical examination of the benefits of volunteering for out-of-work Americans. The report, to be released Tuesday by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that encourages and facilitates volunteerism, found that jobless Americans increase their odds of finding work by 27 percent if they volunteer." Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.

World economic group calls for global exchange of tax information to fight evasion. "A top world economic group has called for the creation of a global system to automatically funnel financial information about individuals and companies from countries where their earnings and investments are located to jurisdictions where they might owe taxes. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is spearheading an effort to curb tax evasion by individuals and close some controversial tax loopholes for corporations, said that the foundation of such a system is already emerging because of reporting requirements newly imposed by the United States." Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

Mortals interlude: Social Security wrongly declares 14,000 people dead each year.

5) IRS to recommend policy changes

IRS set to recommend changes. "Daniel Werfel, acting commissioner at the Internal Revenue Service, will recommend changes to the agency next week stemming from the recent uproar over the targeting of conservative groups, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a Monday interview with Univision. Mr. Lew wouldn't suggest what some of those recommendations might be, but he said the White House was still committed to holding responsible any agency officials that might have been involved in improperly targeting conservative groups applying for non-profit status." Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

What did Holly Paz tell IRS investigators? "The transcript of congressional investigators’ May 21 conversations with Holly Paz, who served as a top official in the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt organizations division until recently, just came to light Sunday. Paz was among the first IRS employees to be interviewed as part of an inquiry  into whether or not the agency improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

What the Fed tapering debate and Justin Bieber obsession have in commonNeil Irwin.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona won’t put an end to voting warsBrad Plumer.

Congress is wildly unpopular. Should anyone actually care? Ezra Klein.

Why does the government encourage people to build homes in wildfire zonesBrad Plumer.

The usefulness of pie charts, in two pie chartsNeil Irwin.

You don’t know what America will look like in 2043, and neither does the governmentEzra Klein.

Can Bitcoin make peace with WashingtonTimothy B. Lee.

READ: The Supreme Court rules against proof-of-citizenship requirements for voting. READ – The Supreme Court rules lawyers can’t use DMV records to find clientsREAD: The Supreme Court rules that judges can’t impose mandatory minimums on their ownREAD: The Supreme Court rules against big pharmaREAD: The Supreme Court rules prosecutors can use a suspect’s silence as evidence of guiltDylan Matthews.

Et Cetera

Nominal GDP target can rescue the UKEvan Soltas in Bloomberg.

CNN poll: Obama's approval down 8 points in one monthAaron Blake in The Washington Post.

OFA launches pro-Obamacare adAaron Blake in The Washington Post.

New outreach: White House Friday dinnersPeter Nicholas in The Wall Street Journal.

Former Obama administration official Berwick announces run for governorSean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Brad Plumer · June 17, 2013