Will House Republicans really kill immigration reform, at a time when even some Republicans are worried that failure to repair relations with Latinos could seriously complicate the party’s chances in national elections for years to come?
Well, one thing that is certain is that a majority of House Republicans may, indeed, vote against it in the end. And the reason why, as my Post colleague Aaron Blake points out, is that House Republicans may not be willing to support a path to citizenship, out of fear of facing primaries. He cites some recent Post/ABC News and Quinnipiac polling to support this argument:
If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find there’s plenty for Republicans to lose by supporting a path to citizenship.
According to the Post-ABC poll, 37 percent of Republicans say voting for a path to citizenship is a deal-breaker for them, while 12 percent say voting against it is a deal-breaker.
The Q poll, similarly, shows that 36 percent of Republicans would be less likely to support someone who votes for a path to citizenship, while 15 percent would be more likely.
In other words, for Republicans whose districts are so red that they only have to worry about their primaries — which is about two-thirds or three-fourths of House Republicans — it seems clear that voting against immigration reform is actually the more politically expedient path.
That’s pretty startling stuff, and yes, it could kill reform. But there is another possible outcome: It could end up increasing the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to allow immigration reform to pass with mostly Democratic votes.
As Jonathan Bernstein has been arguing, immigration reform’s prospects really turn on what the bulk of mainstream conservatives in the House privately want to happen. Even if many of them vote against the bill for their own short-term self-interested reasons, they can still privately favor an outcome in which it passes with Dem votes, for the long term good of the party. It’s often said that if this happens, Boehner’s Speakership is over, but that doesn’t have to be true if many House Republicans actually want reform to pass.
At this point, it seems certain to pass the Senate; as Jennifer Rubin illustrates, Senate conservatives adamantly opposed to reform are running out of arguments and are increasingly marginalized and impotent in the face of what’s happening. The question, though, is how wide a majority it will garner. It’s often said that the best way to pressure Boehner into allowing a vote on whatever emerges from the Senate is for it to pass the Upper Chamber with very broad bipartisan support.
But this would require moving the bill further to the right. And a counter-argument is now gaining steam among liberals that runs something like this: The political consequences for the GOP would likely be so dire if far right Republicans kill reform that Democrats don’t need to make massive concessions to gain a wide majority in the Senate. Ultimately, House Republicans will have to allow a vote on whatever emerges from the Senate, even if it passes with, say, 65 votes, and not 75. Better to pass a good bill and dare House Republicans to kill it.
As Markos Moulitsas explained recently, Republicans simply need to decide whether they are going to make a real effort to repair relations with Latinos. The concessions that undecided Republicans in the Senate are demanding in order to increase that Senate majority (see some of them here) are too onerous and will work against the ostensible GOP goal of presenting a softer face to Latinos in any case:
If Republicans are genuinely trying to present a less hateful face to Latinos, continuing to punish these immigrants throughout their normalization process doesn’t exactly get that done. Instead, it only increases the kind of resentment and hostility that the GOP is supposedly trying to combat.
They need to decide: Are they actually going to compete for Latino votes, or will they doom themselves to permanent minority status by catering to their nativists?
As immigration advocate Frank Sharry put it recently: “No need to cave to the GOP. Let’s pass a good immigration bill with 65 votes, not a bad one with 75 votes.”
If Blake is right, and House Republicans won’t vote for a path to citizenship, this bill is likely going to have to pass with mostly Democratic support in any case. Ultimately reform’s prospects may turn on whether Boehner allows that to happen. This really does appear to come down to Boehner. It’s not an enviable position to be in.