There is a lot of speculation these days about Republicans’ intentions and motives regarding immigration reform. There is also a lot of blame directed at Republicans for not passing any immigration reform bills in the House, but in fact there are two reasons immigration reform isn’t on a faster track. The first reason is Republicans and the second reason is Democrats.
Among Republicans, if you combine those who are hostile to just about any comprehensive immigration reform measure with those who are fearful that addressing the contentious issue could produce a problem in their primaries, you have a blocking position in the House. If you then add the Republican members who are open to immigration reform but think it isn’t worth the trouble in an election year, you end up with a majority of the GOP. Most Republicans want to focus on the two issues that voters care most about – Obamacare and the economy – and that will be hard to change.
It is inaccurate to suggest that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has stopped or disengaged from a process that was going to produce comprehensive reform in the short term. I think that Republicans who are willing to work on immigration reform, especially using a piece-meal approach, probably represent a majority of the caucus. But those members of Congress, along with Boehner, know they cannot negotiate with those who don’t support any immigration reform this year, whatever their reason for wanting to delay. Even trying to talk about the issue with visceral opponents of comprehensive reform is almost impossible. You can’t reason with a blaring horn.
The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), summed up the Republican position pretty clearly when he suggested that very little can happen on immigration reform until at least the 2014 primary season is over later this summer. He also made it clear that he believes the issue is important, even if voters aren’t demanding short-term action. He reminds us that Congress is tasked with dealing not just with those things that are urgent or constantly making headlines, but with all the “issues that matter.”
Then you have the Democrats, who are happy with the status quo of Republicans being on the back foot. In fact, the Democrats are so certain of Republican intransigence that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was able to taunt Republicans on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” essentially daring them to pass an immigration reform law now that won’t go into effect until after President Obama leaves office. Democrats masterfully orchestrated the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate that has no chance in the House. Republican inactivity allows them to continue to demagogue on the issue to mostly Hispanic audiences, who rightly think policy reform is needed.
So with Republicans against or fearful of enacting reform and Democrats gleeful that Republican intransigence is a fact of life, you have a perfect prescription for nothing to happen. But Boehner knows his caucus, and he knows this issue is important. He’ll likely let the committee work continue through the spring and summer and reach a decision around July on whether the House will move something to the floor in the fall.
Given the fear and loathing that surrounds this issue among Republicans in the House and Senate, the best political decision for Republicans may be to wait until after their majority in the House has been confirmed and they have (at the very least) strengthened their position in the Senate. Maybe immigration reform should be an issue left for 2015 – after the 2014 midterms and before the 2016 presidential campaign kicks off.
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