Remember, a number of GOP constituencies — the business community, tech and agricultural interests, evangelicals, the GOP consultant class — and a fair number of more moderate GOP elected officials want reform. Foes like to say that moving forward will touch off a “civil war,” but what that really means is that GOP leaders have decided to side with opponents of reform over those other constituencies, because angering the former is too difficult and dangerous.
It needs to be restated that right now, all we’re talking about here is whether House GOP leaders will allow votes on the party’s own immigration proposals. I did a piece here yesterday arguing that acting on immigration reform is a moral imperative because the status quo is unacceptable. Ramesh Ponnuru responded on twitter by arguing that this isn’t a good enough reason to embrace any particular policy solution. He’s right! But the question facing Republicans is whether they are going to develop, and vote on, their own preferred solutions to the problem, or whether they are going to do nothing for the time being, in hopes that it will somehow get easier later. (It won’t.)
Foes of reform — aided by some silly comments from John Boehner — have skillfully obscured the fundamentals of the situation by claiming House GOP inaction is rooted in nothing but mistrust of Dems. But ultimately, Dems are irrelevant to whether House Republicans will tackle the difficult question of deciding what their own consensus solution to the problem of the 11 million should be. (Boehner himself has confirmed that Republicans agree the 11 million — not just the border problem — must be dealt with.) And that question turns on a basic dilemma that no amount of spin about #Obummer can make disappear. Can Republicans find a way to support some kind of package — including some form of legal status and a range of achievable border security triggers — that can actually work in policy terms and is ambitious enough to solve the problem both sides agree must be solved?
It is only after that fundamental question is answered that the question of whether Obama can be trusted to secure the border, or whether Harry Reid can be trusted in negotiations, can come into play. We cannot get to the point where negotiations would occur until we know what sort of legalization proposals Republicans are willing to entertain. At that point, there is a route to a compromise deal, but Republicans can only resolve the question of whether we get to that juncture in the first place by resolving differences among themselves.
Senator Dean Heller seems to think House Republicans could get past those differences and get to legalization and even comprehensive reform if they wanted to. But unfortunately, if they don’t even try to act, we probably won’t find out whether he’s right for who knows how long.