The chatter continues today about John Boehner’s suggestion that immigration reform will be “difficult” because so many Republicans distrust Obama. The quote is important, but not for anything it says about Boehner’s actual intentions. Those claiming he is killing reform have it wrong. Rather, his comments offer a useful window into what’s really bedeviling Republicans on this issue in spite of Boehner’s goal, which plainly is to get to Yes.

The New York Times has a remarkable piece of reporting that demonstrates the real state of play in an admirably unvarnished way. The gist: Boehner wants reform. But distrust of Obama is not the real reason rank and file House Republicans are hesitant to embrace it. Rather, the driving motive is worry that acting now will hurt GOP chances in 2014, because of the base’s fear and loathing of Obama:

Republicans knowledgeable about the issue said immigration was not yet completely off the table. Instead, they said, reaching any agreement has become appreciably harder because of a Republican reluctance to get caught up in an internal feud and stomp on their increasingly bright election prospects.
At the same time, Republicans say President Obama’s increasing reliance on executive authority to impose his agenda has stirred real resentment among the rank-and-file. It has also deepened their suspicion that Mr. Obama would not follow through on tough border enforcement and other aspects of immigration policy that Republicans favor — resulting in the lack of trust that Mr. Boehner cited in his remarks.

This gets to the core of the real predicament House Republican leaders face. They don’t know how to persuade many of their members — the mainstream conservatives — to accept some form of legalization for the 11 million, on terms that allow for a policy response that is serious enough to solve the fundamental problem we face and to begin repairing the GOP’s Latino problem.


The reluctance to act is easy to explain. Among House Republicans who might want to get to Yes, they worry acting now will distract from GOP chances of profiting in 2014 off Obamacare’s collapse — a unifying fact of life among Republicans. Many on the right will greet virtually any form of legalization with a backlash, because legalization is unacceptable under any circumstances (“amnesty”) or because #Obummer can’t be trusted in any deal. (Those who don’t want to get to Yes at all are themselves unwilling to accept any form of legalization.)

But GOP leaders who understand reform is necessary to fix their Latino problem know they need a much better explanation for eventual failure, to insulate the party from further damage. They also want to buy space from critics on the right to try to solve their legalization conundrum. That’s where Boehner’s suggestion that House Republicans “can’t trust Obama” comes in. It’s designed to calm mainstream conservatives, by letting them know GOP leaders will insist on a border security trigger package they can sell as a sufficient defense against Obama’s secret desire to throw open the borders. Whether this can really be done in a way that can actually work in policy terms, while also satisfying the anti-“amnesty” crowd, is a separate question. It probably can’t, but the point is Boehner is signaling to conservatives that this is the goal.

The central question that reform’s hopes turn on is this: Can enough House Republicans find a way to get to Yes on legalization, on conditions that permit for a workable policy response to the problem of the 11 million? If the answer is Yes, there is a way to a deal, but that will require GOP leaders to get the base angry, and instead throw in their lot with other constituencies — the business community, agriculture and tech interests, evangelicals. If the answer is No, reform is unachievable by definition.


Republicans may not be able to resolve that conundrum in the end. But Boehner’s comments tell us nothing about where that process will end up. Rather, the suggestion “Obama can’t be trusted” is a signal that this is the excuse Republicans will employ if they prove unable to resolve that conundrum. Republicans couldn’t get to Yes on legalization, because no workable border security package Dems might accept is good enough to guard against Obama’s desire to shaft the GOP and the country.



* A BIG MISS ON JOBS: Another bad jobs report:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 113,000 in January, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 6.6 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

Unfortunately, last month’s bad number was not revised:

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for November was revised from +241,000 to +274,000, and the change for December was revised from +74,000 to +75,000.

How about we move forward with that infrastructure repair stuff Republicans used to support as a job-creator?


* MORE GOP LIES ABOUT CBO REPORT DEBUNKED: Glenn Kessler has a terrific takedown of continuing Republican claims — now featured in attack ads — that the CBO report found Obamacare will “kill” two million jobs. As Kessler explains, there’s no way to argue the report said the law will inflict job loss on workers.

What’s particularly interesting about Kessler’s take is how hard Republicans are working to hang on to the “Obamacare job killer” talking point. As noted yesterday, they don’t want to acknowledge that CBO’s findings concern the employment choices people will make due to the law, because that takes the debate on to much tougher political turf for them.

The campaign against health reform has, at every stage, grabbed hold of any and every argument it could find against insuring the uninsured, with truth and logic never entering into the matter…We had the nonexistent death panels…We had supposed horror stories about ordinary Americans facing huge rate increases…And now we have a fairly innocuous technical estimate misrepresented as a tale of massive economic damage. Meanwhile, the reality is that American health reform — flawed and incomplete though it is — is making steady progress. No, millions of Americans won’t lose their jobs, but tens of millions will gain the security of knowing that they can get and afford the health care they need.

* GRIMES EDGES AHEAD OF McCONNELL: A new Bluegrass poll finds Alison Lundergan Grimes leading Mitch McConnell by 46-42, even as McConnell’s dismal approval rating is actually worse (in Kentucky!) than Barack Obama’s. The Real Clear politics average has Grimes up one.

Key Bluegrass poll finding: Only 43 percent of conservatives view McConnell favorably. Dems hope a bruising primary against Matt Bevin (in which McConnell is way ahead) damages him among conservatives, prompting some to stay home on election day 2014.


Update: I should have noted this is a robo-poll, so treat it with caution.

* MORE ON AIPAC AND IRAN: This is really striking:

America’s main pro-Israel lobby came out against an immediate vote on Iran sanctions Thursday, just hours after 42 Republican senators demanded a vote. […]
“We agree…that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support,” AIPAC said in an emailed statement, “and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.” 

This shows that stalling momentum for a vote on Iran sanctions among Dems worked because it turned the GOP push for a vote into a partisan exercise, which AIPAC (which has historically drawn strength from the ability to muster bipartisan support) can’t abide.

* AND GOP EXCUSE ON IMMIGRATION WON’T WASH: Looping back to my lead item: Brian Beutler makes the key point that blaming “distrust of Obama” won’t work in any case:

The upshot is that this is all so incredibly obvious that it won’t fool anybody. Senate Democrats have passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with the help of several Republicans, and Obama has issued fewer “lawless” executive orders than any of his recent predecessors. This has all unfolded so plainly that no amount of buck passing will create any confusion about what’s actually happened and who’s responsible.

My bet is GOP leaders know this, but really, what choice do they have?