So will immigration reform end up including protections for legally married gay and lesbian couples? Late yesterday, Senator Patrick Leahy — the chairman of the Judiciary Committee — made a move that shoved this question into the spotlight in a way that will have very interesting ramifications for the immigration debate and could pose a real challenge for Republicans.

As Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner reports, Leahy submitted two amendments to the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that would extend protections to gay and lesbian couples:

Among Leahy’s amendments is one that would include the Uniting American Families Act — a bill that would create a new category of “permanent partners” to enable a U.S. citizen in a same-sex couple to sponsor a foreign partner — in the larger immigration reform legislation. This amendment had been discussed and was expected to be filed.
A second amendment, according to a news release from Leahy’s office, “provides equal protection to lawfully married bi-national same sex couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law.” The provision asserts that a person would be considered a married spouse under the Immigration and Nationality Act if the marriage “is valid in the state in which the marriage was entered into” or, if “entered into outside of any state,” was valid where entered into.

This last move is very clever, because it throws the “federalist” argument back at conservatives. As one gay rights advocate tells Geidner, “this is basically meant to ferret out the Republicans” who “believe in a federalism concept.”

This may complicate the immigration debate considerably, but the complications may prove to be positive. Marco Rubio continues to reiterate that if any gay rights protections pass committee and end up in the bill, immigration reform is doomed, because the fragile coalition behind it will fall apart. Conservatives continue to insist that the bill must move further to the right. And including one of the provisions may give some Republicans a way to back out of supporting reform.

However, as noted here before, Democrats should continue pushing for these protections for gay and lesbian Americans. If they don’t end up in the bill, it will be clear that Obama and Democrats made a major concession and that the resulting compromise is not the liberal dream legislation they want. That should theoretically make final passage somewhat more likely.

But if the protections do end up in the bill, even temporarily, it will force Republicans to decide whether they are really prepared to oppose reform simply because it also extends immigration rights to gays and lesbians. It would be very interesting indeed to see how that plays out. And at any rate, the measure could always be stripped out in the end if necessary to save reform.

* GOP’s difficult position in debt limit fight: Republicans are set to offer a bill that would authorize Treasury to only raise the debt ceiling to pay bondholders, as a way to avoid default while also allowing Republicans to demand something in return for not raising the debt limit. But as Jennifer Bendery points out, in defending the bill, the House Speaker didn’t disagree with the Dem argument that this would amount to paying China before paying our troops.

The rub here is that by revealing they won’t allow default — which we’ve already seen from the GOP debt limit cave earlier this year — this bill would seem to cast doubt on the GOP’s ability to use the debt ceiling as leverage.

* GOP grapples with debt limit demands: Nevertheless, the Hill reports that House Republicans are locked in an internal debate over what, specifically, they should demand in exchange for the debt limit hike. Should they ask for tax reform, or tax reform and spending cuts? Remember, Republicans had previously seemed close to deciding they were not going to demand the entitlement cuts they themselves had wanted, because they suddenly deemed them too politically risky. But now conservatives will apparently insist on cuts.

But, again, if Republicans are not willing to allow default, it still remains unclear where the leverage for demanding spending cuts and tax reform will come from.

* Hopes fade for budget deal: Relatedly, Republicans are now using the looming debt limit fight as a way to avoid entering into budget negotiations with Democrats (despite previous GOP demands for “regular order.” The idea is that budget negotiations won’t be enough to force Dems to make concessions, so better to wait until the debt limit fight. Or, as Paul Ryan puts it: “The debt limit is the backstop.”

This, from the Post write up, captures the situation perfectly:

In the meantime, Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement.

All of this confusion mostly flows back to one thing: The GOP refusal to agree to a deficit  deal that includes new revenues from the wealthy.

* Manchin-Toomey has a pulse: The Associated Press reports:

Senators backing gun control are discussing ways to revise the defeated Senate background check bill in order to help win the votes they need to resuscitate the measure. Among the changes they might consider are limiting the fees buyers would pay at gun shows, adding provisions dealing with the mentally ill and altering language extending the background check requirement to all online sales, senators said Tuesday.

As noted here yesterday, Senator Jeff Flake, one of the ones thought to be gettable with changes, is probably farther away from flipping his vote than reports have indicated. Still, any senators who do end up flipping would be making it easier to do so by sounding a hard line right now.

* Joe Biden enlists faith leaders in gun fight: In an interesting move, the Vice President is calling on faith leaders to pressure lawmakers to support expanded background checks. The key thing here is that the White House continues to signal that it wants this issue revisited. That alone is important, but it’s also a signal to gun reform groups to continue showing they can sustain organization and energy around the issue.

* Mark Sanford, the face of GOP outreach to women? Republican Mark Sanford prevailed over Elizabeth Colbert Busch in yesterday’s South Carolina special election, despite his extramarital affair and trespassing incident in his ex wife’s house, prompting this statement from the DCCC:

House Republicans’ outreach to women voters now has Mark Sanford as the face…the fact that the Democrat made this competitive is a testament to…the Republican habit of nominating flawed candidates. Democrats will be aggressive and drive deep into Republican-held territory this cycle to find districts with flawed Republican candidates where we can compete.

The Fix crew has predicted that a Sanford victory will allow Dems to continue highlighting the GOP’s “woman problem”

 * And your sorely needed Wednesday comic relief, Chris Stewart edition: Glenn Kessler takes apart GOP Rep. Chris Stewart’s comically lame effort to cast doubt on the notion that an overwhelming percentage of scientists agree human activity drives climate change. Rather, Stewart believes, climate science is “anything but settled.”

Of course, this would be a whole lot more fun if Rep. Stewart weren’t the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Environment.

What else?