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The Morning Plum: The conventional wisdom on immigration reform is wrong

The chances that comprehensive immigration reform will ever pass the House  are very slim. However, the easy conventional wisdom about what’s happening now — which holds that the conservative base controls the outcome completely, that the death of reform is preordained, and that House Republicans are only looking for a way to kill reform blamelessly — is overly simplistic and is increasingly looking like it’s just wrong.

To understand what’s really happening, the key question to ask is: Are House Republicans just playing for time, or are they actually grappling with the issue of immigration reform and what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants?

In a story that deserves a bit of play today, the Daily Pilot reports that California Rep. Kevin McCarthy — who as the GOP whip is a member of the House leadership team — addressed immigration reform in a meeting of constituents. In some ways, what he said wasn’t surprising: He repeated that the borders must be secure first, and stopped short of supporting citizenship.

But McCarthy came out for legal status, crucially putting it this way: “What you then have to address is the 11 million that are here considered illegal.” This comes after GOP Reps. Aaron Schock and Daniel Webster also embraced varying but significant levels of reform earlier this month.

Frank Sharry of America’s Voice tells me McCarthy’s comments are significant, explaining the broader picture this way:

The key is to discern whether House Republicans are saying “no legalization before security,” or whether they’re saying it has to happen at the same time. When you try to decode what a number of prominent Republicans are saying, it seems they are heading towards a proposal that would grant citizenship to some undocumented youth and legal status for most of the 11 million. There’s a growing body of evidence that the GOP leadership wants to act on reform. House Republicans are grappling with the issue. They know that inaction is not an option. And they know there’s no solution without dealing with the 11 million.

If Sharry has this right, it means the goal isn’t simply to play for time so opponents can kill reform; it’s to take the temperature of voters before deciding how to act. (Even some conservative writers like Byron York think this may be what’s happening.) While the key question remains in doubt — can House Republicans ever embrace citizenship — action of some kind in the House, even if it falls well short of comprehensive reform, could get us to conference negotiations (an outcome, remember, that conservative foes of reform are desperately trying to prevent).

ABC News gets it right today: “Republicans may be changing minds on reform.” Is this all a big ruse designed to make Republicans look serious about the issue before killing reform outright? Maybe. But maybe not. As Simon Rosenberg suggests, we should treat all of this seriously, acknowledging Republicans have been entrenched in an anti-amnesty position for years and that it is at least possible that House Republicans (perhaps for purely political reasons, but that would be movement nonetheless) will grapple with how to move from there to support for reform.

Those who glibly say reform is definitely dead no matter what will read the above as optimism. It isn’t optimism at all: far and away the most likely outcome remains that reform will die. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t describe what’s happening now accurately. And the conventional wisdom has it wrong.

* NSA SURVEILLANCE BROADER THAN WE THOUGHT: Charlie Savage moves the ball forward considerably:

The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials.

The difference here is that the agency is “systematically” searching through the contents of these emails without warrants, as opposed to merely vacuuming the data up and searching it by computer. Officials say they do not “target” Americans’ communications for warrantless searches, but this story suggests that assertion may have been narrower than it seemed.

* ACLU RIPS NEW NSA REVELATIONS: Jameel Jaffer, a senior civil liberties attorney with the ACLU, emails over a comment on the above:

The program described by the New York Times involves a breathtaking invasion of millions of people’s privacy. The NSA has cast a massive dragnet over Americans’ international communications, collecting and monitoring all of them, and retaining some untold number of them in government databases. This is precisely the kind of generalized spying that the Fourth Amendment was intended to prohibit.

The latest revelations will likely add to Congressional pressure for reform, which is likely to happen eventually, though how transformative it will be remains to be seen.

* WHY IMMIGRATION REFORM IS NOT YET DEAD: Sahil Kapur charts a narrow and difficult path to passage. As he says (and as I noted above), the key is for some kind of action in the House to get us to conference negotiations. And then:

And there House Republicans would be marginalized. A final product would simply need the support of a majority of conferees from each chamber in order to get floor votes in the House and Senate. All Democrats would stand firm for a broader citizenship component for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, and enough Republicans, particularly in the Senate where 14 of them voted for the policy, would probably go along with them. A bill similar to the Senate version would easily pass the House with mostly Democratic votes.

As always, saying there is an outside chance that reform could still happen should not be confused with predicting that it will happen or even that it is likely.

* IMMIGRATION REFORM’S ‘PLAN B’: Fawn Johnson reports on what immigration advocates will push for if reform fails this year:

The idea behind the “other track” is to freeze the current undocumented population in place through an administrative order, give them work permits, and hope for a better deal under the next president, with the hope that he or she is a Democrat. It’s a significant gamble, but some advocates — particularly those outside of the Washington legislative bartering system— argue that it’s better than what they stand to see under the legislation being discussed now.

Also possible: if things go well for Dems in 2016, reform could be revived by the next Dem president and a Dem-controlled Congress.

* HISPANIC MEDIA IS CLOSELY COVERING IMMIGRATION DEBATE: Ed O’Keefe has a good report detailing that Spanish language media coverage of the immigration battle has effectively become a whole separate arena in which millions and millions of people are being treated to a different look at the story than folks are getting from the English language media. In this regard keep an eye on Dem Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a key member of the House gang of seven.

This continues to get overlooked inside the Beltway, but it’s crucial. As I noted recently, the Latino media follows immigration process very closely, and it is driving home the message that reform’s prospects are all on John Boehner.

* KEN BUCK IS BAAAAAACK: Tea Partyer Ken Buck is set to file papers to run for Senate in Colorado against Dem incumbent Mark Udall, four years after his loss amid a series of flaming gaffes. I know it’s always 2010 for these folks, and nothing has changed since then, but … really?

*  AND A RERUN OF THE SUMMER OF 2009? Here’s something to keep an eye on: With conservatives using August to drum up support for a government shutdown over Obamacare, will the town halls be just as raucous, or will they reveal that public opposition to the law is, in reality, nothing like it was during that summer? Jonathan Cohn argues that the comparison to the 2009 launch of the Tea Party is apt, but that the intensity just may not be there next time.

Conservatives behind the defund Obamacare push will labor create the impression that they are successfully recapturing that Magic of ’09, but here’s hoping news orgs separate hype from reality…

What else?