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The Morning Plum: Dems must stand firm against right’s push to kill immigration reform

This week, it’s show time in the Senate on immigration reform, and we’ll find out a lot in the coming days about whether genuine reform stands a chance of becoming law this year. The Senate “gang of eight” compromise is headed for full Senate debate, where Senate conservatives will mount a last stand of sorts designed to sink the proposal by attacking it with amendments and other procedural weapons.

Here’s one reason for optimism: Over the weekend, Harry Reid confirmed on the record that the latest conservative effort to derail reform — an amendment pushed by John Cornyn that would require onerous enforcement triggers to be met before any path to citizenship kicks in — is a nonstarter for Dems. He made the claim in an interview with Univision, per a transcript provided by his office:

QUESTION: How far are you willing to compromise on this bill to make it happen? In other words, what are you willing to give up and what is a deal-breaker?
REID: Well, I will not accept any poison pills. I mean, we have a senator from Texas, Senator Cornyn, who wants to change border security, a trigger, saying that it has to be 100 percent border security, or there’ll be no bill. That’s a poison pill….we’re not going to have big changes in this legislation.

If that position holds, it’s an important marker. It isn’t just that Reid flatly stated that Cornyn’s amendment is a “poison pill.” It’s that he made it clear that anything that makes border security a “trigger” that precedes the path to legalization is a “poison pill” and a deal-breaker. Since such amendments are explicitly designed to undermine the core of the bill, this position — which was reiterated to me by anonymous Dem aides on Friday — is the one that Dems must hold firm to if real reform is to stand a chance of succeeding.

Right now, Senator Marco Rubio — one of the GOP members of the gang of eight — continues to insist the bill must be moved to the right to have any chance of passing the Senate. Dems openly acknowledge the bill will, indeed, undergo some changes in the coming phase on the Senate floor. The question on the minds of immigration reform advocates is how far to the right Dems will permit the bill to move in the quest for more GOP support. Rubio has threatened to walk if Dems draw too hard a line, but no one really is sure where Rubio’s own line is. Reid’s declaration suggests a willingness to call Rubio’s bluff.

There is some discussion underway among Dems over whether making concessions to conservatives will brighten immigration reform’s prospects by making it more likely that reform will get broad bipartisan support in the Senate, which would in turn put more pressure on the House GOP to act on it. But today Politico details that House Republicans are engaged in an internal debate over whether to advance immigration reform piecemeal, which ultimately doesn’t really improve reform’s prospects, at least not in any way I can see. The Politico piece confirms what we already know: House Republicans very likely won’t support comprehensive immigration reform. But the option remains for the House GOP leadership to allow the final Senate bill to come to a vote and pass with mostly Dem support. John Boehner’s office continues to insist that won’t happen. But if the House fails to pass something — which looks increasingly plausible — will that position really hold, given how much GOP elites and major stakeholders want reform to happen?

It’s possible the House will gut the Senate bill and pass a shadow of reform, after which the House and Senate would proceed to conference negotiations. If that happens, comprehensive reform could still pass, if conference preserves much of the Senate bill, without undermining the path to citizenship, and it then passes the House mostly with Dems. But if conference does gut the bill, and it ends up significantly to the right of the gang of eight compromise, it will lose Democratic support, and become a non-starter. The basic problem is this: Dems won’t agree to anything that can get a majority of Republicans in the House.

Ultimately, the prospects for real reform may well come down to this question: Can enough Republicans accept immigration reform that does not require unworkable enforcement triggers to precede citizenship, and instead ties the path to legalization to conditions that are reasonable and not designed to scuttle reform before it gets off the ground? Either Rubio can accept that, or not. Either Boehner will allow a House vote on that, or not. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see any other plausible endgame.

* KELLY AYOTTE WILL SUPPORT IMMIGRATION REFORM: The GOP Senator from New Hampshire pens an op ed piece explaining why she will support the Senate “gang of eight” immigration reform proposal, emphasizing its focus on enforcement and conditions for citizenship. Provided all Republicans on the gang of eight support it (we’ll see how real Rubio’s threat to walk proves), this gets it closer to 60.

One has to hope that as Republicans embrace the proposal, arguing that it is indeed tough on border security, it will become harder for conservatives to keep insisting it needs to be moved to the right.

* LEAKER IDENTIFIES HIMSELF: Edward Snowden, a 29-year old former technical assistant for the CIA and analyst for a company that contracts with the NSA, identifies himself as the leaker in interviews with Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian and with the Washington Post. His rationale:

“I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

Before he was identified, two top lawmakers — GOP Rep. Mike Rogers and Dem Senator Dianne Feinstein — both said yesterday the leaker should be prosecuted. The Justice Department is in the initial stages of an investigation into the leaks; all of this raises the possibility of a very high profile leak prosecution at a time when the Obama administration is already getting hammered over the AP and James Rosen stories.

* CONGRESS UNLIKELY TO FOCUS ON NSA EXCESSES: In an interview this morning, GOP Rep. Eric Cantor reveals that any Congressional focus on the NSA data-mining programs will not be on whether those programs were excessive or on outstanding questions about them; rather the focus will be on whether the leaker broke any laws. In case you had any doubt about Congress’ priorities here.

* CRACKDOWN ON BIG BANKS STALLS IN CONGRESS: As you may recall, Senators Sherrod Brown and David Vitter are pushing a new proposal to crack down on big banks by forcing them to adopt tougher capital standards, in order to make another financial meltdown less likely. You’ll be startled to hear, however, that it is gaining very little support among fellow members of Congress, again illustrating just how little appetite lawmakers in both parties have for aggressively taking on Wall Street.

* TOP DEM SAYS IRS SCANDAL IS “SOLVED”: A key moment from the Sunday shows: Dem Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Dem on the House Oversight Committee, said that the evidence currently before us shows that the White House was not involved in IRS targeting of conservative groups and that it’s time to “move on.”

Not surprisingly, the committee’s GOP chair, Darrell Issa, strongly rejects that interpretation, but his continued overheated efforts to implicate the White House, which have been pilloried by the media, cast doubt on his vow to continue leading a “fact based investigation.”

* DEMS PRESS ISSA OVER “MISLEADING” IRS CLAIMS: Relatedly, Rep. Cummings is calling on Issa to agree to release the full transcripts of testimony taken by the committee in the IRS case, arguing that they will reveal that Issa has “selectively leaked” details of witness testimony in order to further “unsubstantiated allegations against the president.”

To my knowledge, Issa has not addressed this demand.

* NO, MASS UNEMPLOYMENT IS NOT OKAY: Paul Krugman: While the battle with the deficit scaremongers has largely been won, in the sense that no one is talking about it as a dire threat to the republic anymore, that has not been accompanied by the push we need from Washington to spend more money to fix the economy and mass unemployment.

So here’s my message to policy makers: Where we are is not O.K. Stop shrugging, and do your jobs.

The slow beating back of deficit hysteria is a welcome development, but the new normal is not acceptable. Also: Despite Obama’s claims otherwise, Glenn Kessler details that growth in the manufacturing sector has seriously underperformed.

 * AND THE LIMITS OF LIBERTARIANISM: E.J. Dionne on how the Tea Party (and by extension large swaths of the GOP) are basing their whole approach to policy on a fantasy version of libertarianism that not only will never happen, but that they themselves would probably reject if its basic implications were openly acknowledged. The resulting vacuity of the GOP’s anti-government rhetoric only makes moving past gridlock harder; it’s another way in which today’s GOP has become a “post policy” party.

What else?