In the Senate, members of both parties were working constructively on immigration reform in the hope of producing a broader, bipartisan majority when the final vote is taken. Meanwhile, in the House, the Republican majority was melting down again, resulting in the rejection of a farm bill that had been expected to pass rather easily.
That development in the House has obvious implications for immigration legislation. The operating assumption among proponents of immigration reform has been that a sizable majority in the Senate would help assure a smoother ride in the House. Perhaps, but the farm bill’s setback puts that assumption in doubt. That’s the immediate issue — and the one that will play out for the rest of the year.
Looking further ahead, what happened this past week is a reminder of the potentially treacherous politics those seeking the Republican presidential nomination will face once their competition begins. Can they afford to suggest compromise, as some GOP senators are doing on immigration, or will that trigger a backlash among conservatives in the base — symbolized by House hard-liners — that could cost them the nomination?
The contrast between House and Senate Republicans should not be overstated.
Republicans in both chambers are divided between their tea party and more moderate-conservative wings, as Duke University political scientist David Rohde has pointed out. The demise of President Obama’s gun-control initiative came in the Senate, after all. And ongoing confirmation wars between Senate Republicans and the White House counter the notion that a new era of good feeling is emerging in the upper chamber.
But the composition of the House and Senate GOP caucuses is dissimilar. Tea party Republicans have a bigger share of the House caucus than the Senate’s, and according to Rohde’s analysis, the makeup of many of their districts has led to more “vehement conservatism and unwillingness to compromise” than is the case with some senators.
Immigration reform in the Senate offers a reminder that elections do have consequences, as Ira Shapiro, author of “The Last Great Senate,” said late last week in an e-mail message.
Republicans had hoped to win the White House and take back control of the Senate in 2012. Instead, they were frustrated on both fronts.
Some Republicans, particularly in the Senate, took two lessons from those defeats. One was that the party’s woeful performance among Hispanics required a new approach, beginning with immigration reform. The other was that obstructionism under all circumstances was not a winning strategy and that demonstrating a willingness to compromise at least some of the time would go a long way toward improving the party’s image among swing voters.