The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Morning Plum: Immigration reform may be in trouble

Placeholder while article actions load

The fate of immigration reform comes down to this simple question: Can Republicans accept a pathway to citizenship that cannot be undermined by border security “triggers” that are deliberately designed for the very purpose of undercutting the prospects for real reform?

GOP Senator John Cornyn has been pushing a new immigration compromise that would dramatically strengthen the border security “triggers” that would have to be met to make a path to citizenship operative. The argument is that this is the only way enough Republicans can be enticed to support reform to enable it to pass the Senate in broad numbers. Senate Democratic aides are rejecting Cornyn’s proposal, arguing that it is deliberately designed to make the pathway to citizenship unattainable — in other words, to undermine the core of reform.

This has put Marco Rubio in a box, and it needs to be acknowledged that Cornyn’s move really does threaten the prospects for reform. Frank Sharry, of the pro-immigration America’s Voice, explains why in an email to me:

Cornyn is trying to box Rubio in, and if he does, we’ve got a problem.  Cornyn is taking dead aim at hardening the triggers – threatens the path to citizenship in a big way – in hopes of dragging Rubio to the right. The problem is that Rubio going right loses many Dems. Dicey moment. Cornyn stepped out in front with a proposal for more border security in way that undermines the path to citizenship. Rubio either goes with Cornyn — to look more conservative — and threatens the bipartisan core support for reform, or says no to Cornyn and looks weak, damaging the chance to get 15 Republicans to come in board.

In other words, Cornyn has undercut Rubio by staking out a position much further to the right of the Gang of Eight compromise that Rubio had been taking (he’s been saying some changes are needed, but not to the degree Cornyn wants). This risks making Rubio look like he isn’t the real guardian of conservative interests in the negotiations. Rubio has already been very sensitive to this perception, which is why he’s been making noise about defecting from the Gang of Eight compromise. Cornyn has just further undercut Rubio’s delicate balancing act.

Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Raul Labrador has walked away from bipartisan talks over immigration reform in the House, because of  a dispute over whether undocumented immigrants should have access to health care. It appears undying hatred of Obamacare could scuttle those talks. All this confirms, though, is that it’s probably going to be impossible to get a majority of House Republicans to support comprehensive reform, which means the only route to success probably will turn on whether House GOP leaders will allow it to pass with mostly Democratic votes. That, again, turns on whether House GOP leaders are willing to accept a path to citizenship becoming law or not.

The solution for Democrats is to continue to insist on something close to the Senate “Gang of Eight” compromise, because anything that seriously undermines the path to citizenship is not worth supporting in any case. Ultimately, the prospects for reform turn on whether Republicans will accept a path to citizenship predicated on reasonable conditions — period, full stop. The rest is mostly just noise. Of course, if the answer to that question is No, then reform will die.

* NSA COLLECTING DATA ON MILLIONS OF CALLERS: Glenn Greenwald’s scoop is getting wide play this morning: He reports that a secret April court order reveals that the National Security Agency is collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers in the United States. The White House is not directly confirming the news, but it is defending the general NSA collection of telephone data, arguing that it is a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats,” adding: “the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls.”

Given that this will rightly generate a lot of questions today, Congressional Dems and Republicans alike who criticize the news need to be asked why they support the Patriot Act, given that the court order in question explicitly relies on it.

* GOP GRAPPLES WITH MESSAGING ABOUT “SCANDALS”: Politico reports this morning that top GOP leadership aides are pressing Darrell Issa to dial down the rhetoric directly targeting Obama and his alleged dishonesty about the ongoing “scandals” in Washington:

GOP leaders are concerned that the sometimes unpredictable chairman could  jeopardize the biggest gift handed to them in months — public outrage over the  IRS scandal, combined with questions over Benghazi. They think Issa should stop personalizing the scandals by insulting Obama and his aides and focus on the  facts.

Again: The larger story here is that Republicans can’t decide how openly to acknowledge that pursuit of the scandals is all about weakening Obama. Conservatives have had a grand old time mocking Dems and liberals for pointing out that Republicans risk scandal overreach; it turns out that top Republicans agree!

* MAJORITY OF REPUBLICANS SUPPORTS PATH TO CITIZENSHP: A new NBC/WSJ poll finds that a majority, 52 percent, supports the proposed pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And look at this finding:

When told that the proposed pathway to citizenship under the legislation includes requirements to pay fines, back taxes and pass a background security check, the percentage favoring it jumps up to 65 percent, including 58 percent of Republicans. 

However, even if only a minority of Republicans opposes citizenship, that minority is probably an impassioned one, and the fear of primaries could be enough to dissuade many House Republicans from supporting reform. Reinforcing this dynamic may be the fact that a majority of Republicans, 53 percent, would not be upset if reform didn’t pass.

* POLL FINDS SUPPORT FOR OBAMACARE SLUMPING: The new NBC/WSJ poll also finds that 49 percent, an all time high, think the health law is a bad idea, and that 38 percent say they will be worse off because of it, while only 19 percent saying they’ll be better off, and 39 percent saying it won’t make much difference.

This will excite Republicans who hope to use implementation failures against Dems in 2014. But Dems should not run from the law: They can  — and should — criticize implementation where warranted, but defend the law’s overall goals.

* OBAMA PICKING FIGHT OVER NOMINATIONS: Peter Baker reports that the President’s selection of Susan Rice (the right’s leading target on Benghazi) as National Security Adviser, and other nominations certain to provoke GOP opposition, represent a fundamental shift in the White House’s view of the opposition:

The unapologetic selections reflect a conclusion in the West Wing that when it comes to choosing personnel, the president can never satisfy Republicans who will find almost anyone objectionable.

It’s actually worse than this. The GOP’s unprecedented obstruction of Obama nominations isn’t just about the choices themselves, it’s part of a concerted strategy to render government as dysfunctional as possible. If Dems are serious about confronting this, the next logical step is: Go nuclear.

* GABRIEL GOMEZ AND ED MARKEY DEBATE: David Bernstein has a good overview of last night’s Massachusetts Senate race debate. Ed Markey appears to have succeeded in not letting Gabriel Gomez rattle him, while Gomez seems to have avoided appearing overly inexperienced. Bernstein notes, however, that Gomez flubbed a key moment, revealing he’d vote for pro-life Supreme Court Justices. Also, a key talking point — the silly claim that Markey has not sponsored any legislation that has been signed by the president — came across as canned, and allowed Markey to respond by listing all his accomplishments.

 * AND GOMEZ FAILS TO SHAKE TIES TO NATIONAL GOP: The Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi concludes Gomez appeared out of his depth on the issues in comparison to longtime Congressman Markey, and adds this:

Gomez opposes an assault weapon ban in a state that has one. He opposes Obama-care in a state that created the template for it. And, in the final minutes of the debate, Gomez said he supported a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could get an abortion, and could vote to confirm a pro-life Supreme Court justice. Navy SEALs get out of tough positions. But in Massachusetts, that’s a tough position to survive.

What else?