The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama: House Republicans must prove they can govern again

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It’s still very possible — perhaps even likely — that House GOP leaders will end up killing immigration reform. But Democrats are now signaling how they intend to extract a maximum political price for its death — by adding it to the growing indictment of the GOP as so hopelessly hostage to its extreme elements that it’s lost the ability to solve the country’s problems.

Here’s Obama at an event this morning, increasing pressure on House Republicans to act on reform:

“It’s no secret that the American people haven’t seen much out of Washington that they like these days. The shutdown, the threat of the first default in more than 200 years inflicted real pain on our businesses and on families across the country. It was a completely unnecessary self inflicted wound with real costs to real people. And it can never happen again….
“We should pass immigration reform. It’s good for our economy. It’s good for our national security. It’s good for our people. And we should do it this year. Everybody knows our current immigration system is broken. Across the political spectrum, people understand that. We’ve known it for years….
A clear majority of the American people think it’s the right thing to do. How do we move forward? Democratic leaders have introduced a bill in the House that is similar to the bipartisan Senate bill. So now it’s up to Republicans in the House to decide whether reform becomes a reality or not.”

In this juxtaposition — the reminder of the shutdown and debt limit crisis that just did untold damage to the country, combined with a direct calling out of House Republicans as the last remaining obstacle to fixing the broken immigration system — is a hint of what’s to come if Republicans kill reform. Obama and Dems will use reform’s death to continue developing a contrast between their call for bipartisan functional governance and the GOP’s seeming addiction to destructive Tea Party-driven dysfunction, a message designed to appeal to results oriented independents and moderates.

Now, there’s no chance House Republicans will pass either the Senate bill or the measure championed by House Democrats. But there are still various ways House Republicans can act constructively in a way that makes reform genuinely possible. GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart  and Darrell Issa are working on proposals to do something about the 11 million, and House GOP leaders plainly want to find a way to pass something. But what remains to be seen is whether all this is about checking boxes, or whether we’ll see a genuine willingness to enter into conference negotiations. Conservatives will strenuously resist this because it carries the unacceptable risk of resulting in a compromise solution to a pressing national problem that they won’t be able to accept under any circumstances.

Indeed, we’re not getting immigration reform if GOP leaders are not willing to make conservatives angry at some point in the process. If they are, there are ways — outlined here and here — that could get us to comprehensive reform, via conference negotiations, even without House Republicans having to hold an initial vote on a path to citizenship. Then, of course, House GOP leaders would have to allow a vote on it.

At bottom all of this turns on whether House GOP leaders and mainstream House conservatives decide that the party’s dismal overall standing — with Latinos and the American people at large — actually matters, and that embracing reform is a way to begin fixing these problems. This week’s Post/ABC poll found that only one in five Americans — including 14 percent of independents and 18 percent of moderates — believe Republicans are “interested in doing what’s best for the country.” Maybe that doesn’t matter, because the House GOP majority is supposedly invulnerable. Or maybe the cost of alienating the base with reform is too great.

Will John Boehner let the right set the agenda yet again? Maybe, but as Sean Sullivan points out:

Boehner listened to the right flank of his conference in the fiscal fight, and that path was politically destructive for his party. That’s enough to believe he will at least entertain the possibility of tuning the hard-liners out a bit more this time around.

Indeed, if it does matter to GOP leaders that large majorities don’t appear to think Republicans want to do what’s best for the country, immigration reform is one of a few remaining ways to demonstrate otherwise. Dems have let it be known they will continue to frame the choice in these terms.