Yes, the chances of getting immigration reform through the House are exceedingly slim. I am not — repeat, not — optimistic about it happening. But all the obituaries already being written for reform distract from a basic fact: Whatever chance reform does have of passing depends largely on whether John Boehner and Paul Ryan exercise leadership on the issue.
There are some signs that Boehner and Ryan want to get the caucus to Yes on reform — perhaps even comprehensive reform with legalization or even citizenship — but to read much of the coverage, you’d think they have no real influence over whether that actually happens.
Politico reports this morning that there is rising pessimism among reform advocates about reform’s prospects. As John McCain puts it: “We are not winning this fight.” And that’s true. But the arguably more important point in the Politico story is that reform doesn’t have to die. There are outside routes to success in the House that look like this:
One possibility is that Boehner attempts to pass a handful of piecemeal bills but ends up being stymied by two dozen or more conservatives who refuse to vote for anything that could set up a conference committee. House Democrats could also hold together and oppose any effort to deal with immigration through a step-by-step approach. If unable to produce a bill, Boehner could succumb to rising pressure from business, establishment Republicans, faith leaders and others to ultimately allow a vote on a comprehensive bill — and House members who oppose it wouldn’t revolt because they’ll just want it off their plate. In that scenario, Boehner would most likely feel pressure to bring up a bipartisan House bill, which is slated for release later this year. That bill is expected to hew further to the right than the Senate bill.
Another scenario is that the House passes legislation on border security and the DREAM Act, setting up a conference committee with the Senate. When it gets to conference, Senate reform backers would push to expand the scope of the negotiations and lobby Boehner to waive the so-called Hastert rule for the conference committee report, which requires a majority of the majority to support a bill before it receives a vote.
The first of those scenarios is probably the more likely one, and it’s important to keep it in mind. As I reported here yesterday, the bipartisan House “gang of seven” group is eying a compromise that would include a path to citizenship but would redefine the provisional legal status as “probation” and require E-Verify to be operational in five years, or all those undocumented immigrants get kicked off probation. In other words, this would function as a hard trigger for citizenship — and it’s much tougher than what’s in the Senate bill.
Remember: Presuming this compromise measure does get introduced, which would probably happen after the August recess, the GOP leadership has some say over what happens to it. Does it get a vote? How aggressively will GOP leaders advocate for it internally? The Latino media is demanding to know whether Boehner is prepared to show some leadership on the issue. This may or may not matter to Republicans, but outside observers note that this could, in fact, matter to the GOP over the long term. Will Boehner and Ryan — who is emerging as a pivotal figure on immigration in the House — step up and make the case that it’s time to support something that has plenty for both sides to dislike, even if it means taking some heat from the right in the process?
As for the second option outlined by Politico, that one could unfold if we get to conference with a House bill that lacks a path to citizenship. Conservatives are trying to prevent that from happening, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. For all of Boehner’s insistence that he’ll never allow a vote on anything that lacks the support of a majority of Republicans, if this scenario does take place, he would likely face a very tough decision at that point. It’s very possible Boehner and GOP leaders may decide supporting immigration reform isn’t necessary for the long term good of the party or would more short term harm than good. But we don’t know for certain they’ll decide that — and indeed, it seems clear Boehner and Ryan believe there is a need for the party to act.
Yes, it is likely reform will die in the House. But if it does, it would not be a natural or inevitable occurrence. It would be the result of a leadership decision, not the result of the right wing dictating the outcome. It would largely be by choice.
* MAJORITY SUPPORT FOR CITIZENSHIP: A new Post/ABC News poll finds that 55 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship, including 55 percent of independents and 53 percent of moderates. But as always, a majority of Republicans — 58 percent — opposes it.
* DIAGNOSING WHAT AILS THE GOP: Tom Edsall on the reason House Republicans don’t care about whether the GOP evolves and remain hostile to compromise and basic governing: Many members care more about winning reelection than about presidential races; and they are overly dependent on white southern voters. Key stat:
Of the 234 Republican members of the House, 97 — two fifths — come from the 11 Confederate states, and these 97 are almost uniformly opposed to negotiation of any kind with Democrats.
* HOW OBAMA CAN HELP DEMOCRATS IN 2014: Reid Wilson reports that Democrats are actually quite happy with Obama’s commitment to helping them in the runup to the 2014 elections, which goes counter to some of the Beltway sniping we’ve heard of late. Notably, Obama aides are trying to figure out how best to share his vaunted email lists and troves of voter data, which could help with a critical goal: bringing out more persuadable and occasional voters in hopes of making the 2014 electorate more like 2014 than 2010.
* QUOTE OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE REPEAL EDITION: In the wake of yesterday’s House GOP votes chipping away at the Affordable Care Act, Dana Milbank has a fun column noting that Democrats have actually lost count of how many times Republicans have voted to repeal the law. This, from GOP Rep. Rich Nugent of Florida, is perfect:
“If it’s 37, 38, 39, I don’t care. If we do it 100 times, sooner or later we’ll get it right.”
Points for persistence, if not for appreciation of reality…
* CONSERVATIVES UNHAPPY WITH FILIBUSTER DEAL: David Drucker reports that conservatives are grumbling about the deal John McCain and Republicans struck with Harry Reid, allowing Obama’s nominations to proceed in order to avoid a “nuclear” rules change. This, from Ted Cruz, is instructive:
Today, re: the so-called nuclear option, Senate Republicans preserved the right to surrender in the future.
By “surrender,” Cruz must mean, “allowing the winner of elections to staff the government.” This signifies that conservatives will likely continue to pressure the leadership to keep up with the relentless obstructionism.
* COULD PRIMARIES IMPERIL GOP CHANCES OF TAKING BACK SENATE? John Whitesides reports that Liz Cheney’s Senate run is stirring fears among Republicans of a rerun of 2010 and 2012, when primary challenges from the right cost Republicans winnable seats, interrupting their drive to take back the Senate:
The fields of candidates are still shaping up, but already there are signs of brewing Senate primary fights among Republicans in several states, including Iowa, Georgia and Alaska. “The Republican path to success in the Senate is pretty narrow. If they lose one or two seats because of a difficult primary, that’s a huge problem — and it’s possible,” said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Georgia is key, because if Republicans lose a seat there, they’d likely be forced to sweep four Dem incumbents out of office (presuming Mitch McConnell wins) to take back the Senate.
* AND TODAY’S PLUM READS:
Don’t miss Norm Ornstein on the various ways in which Republican obstructionism is, indeed, unprecedented, and on why more of the same “nullification” from Mitch McConnell may well provoke another confrontation.
Another must read: Roll Call on how McConnell is doing backflips to explain away his humiliating defeat in this week’s filibuster fight.
Americans United for Change is up with a new ad in D.C. touting the good Obamacare news out of New York and juxtaposing it with continued GOP efforts to repeal the law. For White House allies, the struggle is to counterbalance media coverage that will hype every misstep as proof the law is in catastrophic collapse.
A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Virgina voters favor legalizing gay marriage by 50-43 — while 68 percent of Republicans remain opposed.
Jonathan Capehart on why Eric Holder is right to take a stand against “stand your ground” laws.
Paul Krugman on why Obamacare is the right’s worst nightmare: It’s an attack on everything they believe in and it’s going to make untold numbers of people’s lives better.