The celebratory tone among Republicans and conservatives caught up in Beltway scandal-mania continues this morning. But the real story is that behind all the hoopla, immigration reform continues to march forward, with conservatives suffering one defeat after another in their efforts to derail it. And that means the day is fast approaching when House Republicans will have to decide whether they are going to pass reform and suffer the consequences from their base, or take the blame for killing it.
Late yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Senate Gang of Eight compromise, which would create a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, on a 13 to 5 vote. This is a big, big deal. It means the most ambitious effort at immigration reform in years is heading to the full Senate.
This caps a period in which far right Republican Senators introduced amendment after amendment designed to undermine the core of reform, efforts that were slapped down by a bipartisan group of Senators, demonstrating that the coalition behind real reform seems to be holding.
Senator Orrin Hatch voted with the majority to advance reform, and the importance of that should not be understated. Hatch is from Utah, where the Tea Party claimed one of its earliest scalps in the person of former longtime Senator Bob Bennett, partly over his support for immigration reform. Hatch is exactly the sort of Senator reformers need if they are going to get very broad bipartisan support for the final Senate vote.
If that happens, and it’s looking increasingly likely that it will, that will very much intensify the pressure on the House to act. The prospects for passing the bill out of the House are uncertain, to put it mildly. But some Dems think all the scandal mania actually improves the prospects for immigration reform. As one Dem remarked to me, by sucking up all the right’s energy and attention, it could distract conservatives just enough to sneak immigration reform past them.
I don’t know if that will prove true or not, but that dynamic does seem to be one that pro-reform GOP Senators are trying to use to their advantage. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, for instance, go before the cameras and rail about Obama’s scandalous, Nixonian conduct, then turn around and do the hard work — along with Mr. Amnesty himself, Chuck Schumer — of moving immigration reform past one conservative hurdle after another.
As Jonathan Bernstein noted yesterday in a good piece, if reform passes the Senate, many mainstream conservatives in the House are going to have to decide whether to allow it to advance, or to bow to the far right and kill it. That’s the choice looming behind all the scandal triumphalism that is commanding the attention of conservatives right now.
* DEMS YANK LGBT PROTECTIONS FROM IMMIGRATION BILL: Late yesterday, Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee conspired to pull protections for gay married couples from the immigration reform bill, in the belief that they would kill reform. As Chris Geidner reports, advocates are harshly criticizing Democrats and the White House for abandoning their allies at a critical moment.
It would have been good to challenge Republicans on their insistence that they would really walk away from immigration reform — which would seriously damage the GOP — if it contains protections for gays. Instead, Dems chose simply to believe them up front and act accordingly.
* REPORT SHEDS MORE LIGHT ON BENGHAZI “SCANDAL”: The Post’s Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung have an absolute must read cutting through all of the noise and nonsense to detail what the Benghazi emails and edited talking points really reveal.
Cliff notes version: David Petraeus wanted the talking points to be “favorable to his image and his agency.” The White House didn’t object to the original talking points, and played the role of “mediator” in a “bureaucratic fight.” The initial talking points triggered objections even within the CIA that fingering those involved in the attacks could compromise the investigation. And a top CIA official agreed with the State Department that those mentions should be removed.
It will be interesting to see if those chasing various Benghazi scandal threads this morning deal with this report.
* GOP DEEPLY DIVIDED OVER BUDGET TACTICS: This is a telling divide: Senators John McCain and Susan Collins are tearing into Rand Paul and Ted Cruz over their continued insistence that Republicans refuse to enter into budget negotiations with Democrats. Paul Cruz are insisting that if Republicans do that, Dems will be able to sneak a debt ceiling extension into any deal, depriving Republicans of their leverage.
What this shows, again, is that the far right is preventing Republicans from engaging in basic governing, and instead is insisting that they stick to tactics such as threatening to destroy the economy to get their way.
* TED CRUZ PLAYING BUDGET GAMES: Also: the far right senator is insisting, incredibly, that the debt limit be subjected to a “traditional 60 vote threshold,” despite the fact that budgets pass with simple majorities. Steve Benen responds:
Between 1939 and 2010, the debt ceiling was raised 89 times. How many of those increases were subjected to the “60-vote threshold”? Zero. Even earlier this year, a debt-ceiling increase was approved with 52 votes, not 60.
It’s possible Cruz doesn’t understand what “traditional” means, so let’s make this clear: the word generally refers to established or customary patterns of thought, action, or behavior. In this case, the established, customary pattern is for the Senate to vote up or down on debt-ceiling increases, often as part of the budget conference committee process.
* WHAT WILL OBAMA SAY ABOUT DRONES? Obama is set to deliver a speech tomorrow in which he’s expected to detail a legal rationale for his drone strike program and say more about how he’ll deal with Guantanamo. Scott Shane has a terrific overview of the issues and challenges involved, noting that both of those are coming at great cost, worsening America’s relations with the Muslim world and giving Al Qaeda continuing recruiting tools.
People will be watching to see whether he details a mechanism that will create meaningful oversight and transparency on drones, and whether he fully commits to taking the steps he can take on his own, without Congress, in the direction of closing Guantanamo.
* GET READY FOR ROUND TWO OF THE SEQUESTER: A good point from the Hill: Another round of deep sequester cuts is set to hit agencies across the government in 2014. The key question is whether, over the long term, Congress’ emphasis on austerity and deficit reduction, at a time when the deficit is already falling, will continue holding the recovery back.
* AND DO REPUBLICANS RISK A RERUN OF 1998? I argued yesterday (along with Charlie Cook) that the GOP is courting 1998-style scandal overreach and potential backlash. Philip Klein offers a thoughtful response, noting that there are real differences between now and 1998 and that Republicans now have the benefit of having been through this before.
I really hope Klein is right that the GOP will avoid the temptation of impeachment (though calls for it may well increase from some quarters) and hope Republicans heed his call to not allow the scandals to distract from creating an affirmative policy agenda.