The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Morning Plum: Are pro-immigration reform Republicans losing the political argument?

Many of the arguments conservatives are making against the Senate immigration reform bill are best understood as talking points designed to give Republican lawmakers a way to justify doing what they’d be inclined to do anyway: Oppose any reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. For instance, conservatives have now taken to arguing that the Obamacare employer mandate delay provides the perfect justification for House Republicans to oppose the Senate bill — if Obama can’t be trusted to implement Obamacare, how can he be trusted to implement border security? — even though it’s not clear there is anything that could get them to support citizenship in the first place.

In this context, today’s piece by Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry calling on House Republicans to kill the Senate bill will drive a lot of discussion in the media and in Congress. Kristol and Lowry float the employer mandate argument, too, but the real crux of their case is that killing the Senate bill is actually the right thing politically for the GOP:

The Republicans eager to back the bill are doing so out of political panic. “I think Republicans realize the implications for the future of the Republican party in America if we don’t get this issue behind us,” John McCain says. This is silly. Are we supposed to believe that Republican Senate candidates running in states such as Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, and Montana will be hurt if the party doesn’t embrace Chuck Schumer’s immigration bill?
If Republicans take the Senate and hold the House in 2014, they will be in a much better position to pass a sensible immigration bill. At the presidential level in 2016, it would be better if Republicans won more Hispanic voters than they have in the past — but it’s most important that the party perform better among working-class and younger voters concerned about economic opportunity and upward mobility. Passing this unworkable, ramshackle bill is counterproductive or irrelevant to that task.

That Latino outreach problem? Meh. Sure, it would be preferable to do a bit better among Hispanic voters, but really, it’s no biggie. As Mike Tomasky notes:

I like the way they allude to “working-class and younger voters.” They had the sense not to be so crass as to put the modifier “white” in front of those nouns, because that would have eaten up all the discussion oxygen, but we all know by simple process of elimination that that’s what they really mean.

That aside, here’s my question: Where is the pushback on these political arguments from pro-immigration reform Republicans? There is a broad coalition of Republicans out there who support reform, from business-aligned interests to leading members of the strategist/consultant class. Many of them have generally argued that the GOP needs to repair relations with Latinos over the long term.

But unless I’ve missed something, we’re not hearing as many direct rebuttals as we might to the demographic and political arguments anti-Senate-bill conservatives continue to make. Or, as Steve Benen put it, “the forget-everyone-but-white-people strategy is starting to dominate party thought.” (In addition to the argument that the GOP’s over-reliance on white voters may not be as serious a problem for the GOP as advertised, there’s also the argument that Republicans must oppose the Senate bill because it will demoralize the GOP base in 2014.)

Remember, that much discussed Republican National Committee autopsy explicitly cited a need to improve relations with Latinos, crucially making the broader case that the party must develop a more tolerant and inclusive aura to win over young voters and other demographics. Where are the rebuttals to the new emerging conservative arguments from those Republicans who agree with the RNC diagnosis? If House Republicans are looking for ways to oppose reform no matter what’s in it, it will only be easier for them to do so if they can cite the Kristol/Lowry line that so doing is better for the GOP politically than the alternative. And it looks like that line is gaining ground, which doesn’t bode well for reform.

* BOEHNER LAYS DOWN MARKER ON IMMIGRATION: This quote from the House Speaker could prove important:

“It’s real clear, from everything that I’ve seen and read over the last couple of weeks, that the American people expect that we’ll have strong border security in place before we begin the process of legalizing and fixing our legal immigration system.”

Boehner is deliberately keeping it vague; in many ways the Senate bill already accomplishes this. But if Boehner’s quote means the only way House Republicans can accept a path to citizenship (presuming anything can get them to accept one) is with the sort of hard enforcement triggers favored by John Cornyn, then we’re likely left with two choices: Either Boehner allows the Senate bill to pass with mostly Dems, or reform dies.

* HAS HOUSE GOP DECIDED TO PUT OFF IMMIGRATION? David Hawkings reads the tea leaves and decides that the House GOP leadership really may have decided immigration reform is not a political necessity for the Republican Party in the very near term. The reporting that comes out of tomorrow’s big GOP caucus meeting will be critical.

* YES, SEQUESTRATION CUTS HURT REAL PEOPLE: Sam Stein continues to do nice work documenting the very real impact the sequester cuts are having on real communities and real people, this time with a focus on families who benefit from Head Start programs. Big point:

In Washington, the conventional wisdom has sometimes held that sequestration’s harms were oversold. Dire warnings of massive job loss never came true, while government programs used budget gimmickry to keep operating. Outside the Beltway, the perception of sequestration is sharply, viscerally different. Budget cuts have resulted in fewer meals for seniors, less financial aid for scientific research, poorer natural disaster preparedness and more expensive treatments for cancer patients.

All of this, of course, continues to take place even as the deficit continues to fall.

* DEMS SET TO HIT NUKE BUTTON ON FILIBUSTER? Democrats are now planning to force the issue this week by pushing forward with several Obama executive branch nominations and threatening to change the filibuster rules if Republicans continue to obstruct them. Chuck Schumer explains the thinking:

“What’s particularly galling to us is there are certain vacancies that haven’t been filled not because the Republicans have anything against the nominee, but rather because they just dislike the agencies and they don’t want them to function.”

In the case of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in particular, this is the rub. The question remains, though, whether Dems have 51 votes to change the rules.

* CONGRESS MUST PUSH HARDER FOR FISA DECLASSIFICATION: The New York Times again demands declassification of the FISA court opinions authorizing broad NSA surveillance, and, crucially, makes the point that Congressional leaders need to actively push the administration to support the Merkley bill that would accomplish this.

By my tally, only a portion of the Dem Congressional leadership has even voiced support for the Merkley bill. Progressives and Dems who still care about this issue can demand better.

* MORE FALSE ADVERTISING AGAINST OBAMACARE: Glenn Kessler takes apart the new Americans for Prosperity ad featuring a mother worrying that her young son won’t get the care he needs because of the Affordable Care Act. Conservative attacks are all about spreading confusion about implementation of the law in hopes of making implementation fail and exacerbating the political price Dems will supposedly pay for it.

As always, this underscores the refusal of so many on the right to simply accept that Obamacare is the law of the land.

* AND CAN GRIMES BEAT MCCONNELL? Stuart Rothenberg pours cold water on the chances that Alison Lundergan Grimes can oust Mitch McConnell, citing the Republican tilt of the state, but he also allows Grimes does have a chance of winning, given her lack of obvious negatives and McConnell’s weakness. For what it’s worth, national Dems really do think Grimes has a shot at winning, which all but ensures a huge amount of national attention — and money — to this contest.

What else?