The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Syria won’t make GOP’s immigration problem go “poof” and disappear

I noted this morning that the overarching factor that will shape this fall’s fiscal fights is the deep schism within the GOP over how aggressively to wage war on Obamacare. For all the talk about how Obama’s mishandling of Syria diminishes or weakens him for coming confrontations, all of that is largely irrelevant to the central question: Can Republicans resolve their own internal differences?

It’s worth noting that a similar dynamic is present on immigration. Whatever Obama’s “standing” in relation to Congress, it won’t change the GOP’s predicament on immigration one iota.

Jorge Ramos, the widely influential Univision anchor who has been called the “Walter Cronkite of Hispanic media,” today published a column that illustrates this nicely. Republicans and neutral commentators say the Syria debate probably means immigration reform will be delayed indefinitely. This is, of course, a cop out, and Ramos says so rather bluntly. Here’s the translation, courtesy of America’s Voice:

Syria has turned into the biggest excuse to delay, and even eliminate, the chance for immigration reform this year. The enormous international consequences of an attack on Syria are giving the most conservative Republicans the pretext they were looking for not to give a path to citizenship to the undocumented.
I’m not trying to downplay the significance of Syria…but Hispanics and immigrants in the United States deserve better. The last time immigration reform happened was in 1986, and in 2007 a (weak) immigration bill died of starvation in Congress. How much longer do we have to wait? […]
Delaying the debate over immigration reform because of the conflict in Syria is simply an unacceptable excuse. Truly important things should not be delayed. Syria and immigration can, and should, both be discussed and resolved before the year ends.

As Ramos has previously noted, if immigration reform dies, the Hispanic media — and Latinos generally — will hold House Republicans, and House Republicans alone, responsible for it. Ramos’ message above is that if Republicans try to use Syria as an excuse for inaction, Latinos will see right through that, too.

The debate in Washington right now is heavily focused on whether Obama’s handling of Syria — in particular, Congress’ apparent rejection of his request for authorization — has badly weakened his ability to realize the rest of his agenda. Immigration reform, of course, is a major item on that agenda.

But when it comes to immigration — as with this fall’s fiscal fights — that question is largely irrelevant. Obama’s “standing” or “strength” with regard to Congress won’t play any significant role in determining whether immigration reform happens. That, too, is a question that turns only on whether Republicans resolve their differences over it.

Immigration reform’s fate, at bottom, rests solely on whether Republicans decide it needs to pass for the long term good of the party. Either they will decide killing reform is too risky, because it will lock in anti-GOP hostility among Latinos for a generation or more. Or they will decide passing reform won’t do enough to win over Latinos, given their disagreement with the GOP on other issues, and that the downsides of alienating the base aren’t worth the potential upsides. Neither the fact that Congress is distracted by Syria, nor Obama’s short term dip in popularity or standing or whatever you want to call it, will have anything whatsoever to do with that decision. Nor will Latino reaction to the GOP’s eventual decision. Does anyone imagine that if Republicans kill reform, Latinos will somehow see the Syria debate — or, even more ludicrously, Beltway-generated ideas about Obama’s “standing” — as mitigating factors?

When looked at through the prism of specific issues — such as immigration reform or the budget arguments to come — the notion that the Syria mess somehow diminishes the chances for key items on Obama’s agenda, or somehow changes the calculus for Republicans with regard to how to approach them, is plainly absurd on its face.