The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Morning Plum: On immigration, Dems hold the middle ground, and Republicans don’t

In recent days, Republicans have begun to spin misleading impressions of the two parties’ positions in the immigration debate. They are casting the Dem embrace of a path to citizenship as “extreme” — as the polar opposite of mass deportation — in a bid to suggest that the GOP is the one open to the compromising middle ground. That middle ground is defined by Republicans as lying somewhere between an unconditional path to citizenship and nothing but beefing up enforcement and security.

The whole enterprise is deeply misleading. This New York Times headline and lede today capture the game well:

House G.O.P. Open to Residency for Illegal Immigrants
House Republicans on Tuesday staked out what they cast as a middle-ground option in the debate over immigration, pushing an approach that could include legal residency but not a path to citizenship — as their Democratic counterparts favor — for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

Now, it’s true that in being open to some sort of legal status, Republicans have moved a bit. But that’s only a reflection of how extreme their original position — that any sort of legal status of any kind constitutes unacceptable “amnesty” — really was. The current openness to legal status does not constitute “middle ground.” By any reasonable measure, their position remains marginal, while the Dem position squarely occupies that “middle ground.”

That’s because the Democratic position — one that, in fairness, is shared by GOP Senators like John McCain and Marco Rubio, but not the vast majority of Republicans in the House — is a compromise position, in the sense that it calls for a mix of what both sides want, i.e, beefed up enforcement on one side, and citizenship on the other. And the Dem vision calls for citizenship to be accompanied by penalties and conditions, too.

A new Post poll out this morning drives home that this is indeed the middle ground position. It finds that when Americans are asked whether they favor just a “path to citizenship for illegal immigrants,” a majority supports it, 55-41. Among moderates, the numbers are 53-43, and among independents they are 52-44. Heck, even 45 percent of conservatives, and 42 percent of Republicans, support this. But most Republicans, particularly in the House, are not ready to embrace it.

It’s true that the poll also finds overwhelming support for increasing border security. But again, increased security and enforcement is part of the Dem position. Indeed, under the Obama administration record numbers have been deported and billions have been spent on securing the border. And the Senate compromise crafted in part by Dems includes beefed up enforcement.

The two pillars that are absolutely necessary to any compromise on immigration reform are enforcement, and a path to citizenship with reasonable conditions. Only one party supports both of these. The other, judging by the state of opinion in the House of Representatives, simply doesn’t. And so, by definition, only one party is embracing the middle ground, while the other isn’t. McCain and Rubio, of course, are the exceptions to the rule. Indeed, it’s worth noting that when Republicans cast the Dem embrace of a path to citizenship as “extreme,” they are implicitly suggesting McCain and Rubio are extremists.

* Two House GOPers support Obama’s temporary sequester: Obama urged lawmakers yesterday to adopt a temporary sequester to avert spending cuts that would cripple the economy, a move that was immediately opposed by GOP leaders. But two House Republicans tell the Huffington Post that they support the temporary sequester in order to avoid the damage cuts will do. It’s a measure of the pressure individual Republicans may feel to support Obama’s suggestion, particularly as the deadline looms.

* But GOP leaders appear increasingly inclined to let sequester happen: The Post reports that there is a growing inclination among Republican leaders and conservatives to simply let the sequester kick in, on the theory that it will make it easier to get conservatives to agree to a deal later to avert a government shutdown.

The mystifying thing is that this huge cut in spending is becoming more likely even as the CBO finds that the deficit is falling, making immediate austerity — and the damage it will do to the economy — even more unnecessary. Last quarter’s contraction shows us what dramatic reductions in spending will do. There’s no mystery or doubt here.

* Targeted killing white paper prompts calls for more transparency: Scott Shane and Charlie Savage have a must-read on how the disclosure of the white paper justifying the targeted killings of Americans will only make it harder for the Obama administration to evade more disclosure. As the story notes, the administration was okay with releasing the legal papers justifying the Bush torture program, so why not Obama’s? Congressional Dems — and Republicans — must not let up in the push for more transparency and real Congressional oversight here.

* GOP’s makeover is mostly cosmetic: Alec MacGillis does a nice job taking apart Eric Cantor’s big speech rebranding the GOP, noting that in some cases Republicans support policies that go contrary to the policy goals Cantor himself articulated, in the course of trying to soften the party’s rhetoric about government. This headline captures it well:

Eric Cantor’s Bold New Vision for America: No Medical Device Tax

Cantor did seem mindful of the need to articulate, at least rhetorically, a positive vision for government to play in people’s lives, which is not nothing.

* GOP’s makeover is mostly cosmetic, Part II: NBC’s Michael O’Brien gets this exactly right:

The speech fits squarely within the rubric of reinvention sought by the GOP at the advent of President Barack Obama’s second term. The Virginia congressman offered generally familiar proposals, couched in the rhetoric of middle class advancement. This “softer” approach to policy-making squares with an emerging Republican consensus that the party does not necessarily need to change its policies so much as frame them in a way that is more relevant to middle class, minority, and women voters.

It does appear that GOP leaders have made an explicit decision not to change its policy agenda in any meaningful sense, except perhaps on immigration.

* GOP’s makeover is mostly cosmetic, Part III: Dana Milbank has a particularly acerbic takedown:

In recent weeks, Republican leaders such as Cantor have resembled nothing so much as laundry detergent salesmen, figuring if they can simply rebrand their product (High Efficiency 2x Ultra Stainlifter Clean Breeze Concentrated Fresh!) Americans will buy what they’re selling. Omitted from consideration is the possibility that consumers don’t like what’s in the bottle.

* GOP’s makeover is mostly cosmetic, Part IV: An absolutely crucial point from Steve Benen:

Cantor seems to realize that another “government is evil” speech is pointless — for all the assumptions about the “center-right nation,” he realizes that the American mainstream sees a role for a healthy public sector that promotes the general welfare. But the problem with this latest rebranding campaign is that Cantor wants to present a Republican agenda that will “benefit families across the nation,” but he can’t fill in the blanks. There’s a reason for this, which the right generally prefers not to admit: conservatism isn’t an effective governing philosophy when it comes to using government to make a positive material difference in the lives of working families.

Republicans see the need to make rhetorical concessions about government, which genuinely is an implicit concession that public opinion is not on their side when it comes to broad-strokes questions about its proper role and scope, a question they customarily treat as settled in their favor.

* And the progressive plan to reduce the deficit: Yesterday I wrote up the House progressives’ new plan to avert the sequester with new revenues and defense cuts — and with new stimulus designed to boost job creation as a means of bringing down the deficit, rather than more crippling cuts. Business Insider has a full breakdown of the plan, which can be summed up this way:

A Group Of Congressmen Have A Plan That Would Avert The Sequester, Reduce The Deficit, And Not Destroy The Economy

Also: See the chart captured by Business Insider, which neatly shows that Dems have conceded far more towards deficit reduction so far (over $1.5 trillion in spending cuts) than Republicans have (around $700 billion in revenue increases).

What else?