Just as I suspected from his weak objections to the Gang of 8’s border-security provisions, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) effectively confessed to wanting no bill to pass.
In a CBS News interview, he insisted on one hand, “I think the president wants to campaign on immigration reform in 2014 and 2016. And I think the reason the White House is insisting on a path to citizenship for those who are here illegally is because the White House knows that insisting on that is very likely to scuttle the bill.” But then why would Cruz accommodate him? In a way, Cruz is President Obama’s ally if the president is really plotting the downfall of the GOP.
What is clear is that Cruz wants no “pathway to citizenship,” even with all the conditions imposed by the Gang of 8 bill. In that regard, he is out of step with most voters and even Republicans. By contrast, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is fine with a pathway, so long as the border is secure.
Now that Cruz has made clear he’s not interested in a bill even if border security provisions were different, he can effectively be ignored. In truth, the Democrats should be able to produce 45 to 50 votes, leaving the four Republicans on the Gang of 8 needing to find a half-dozen votes or fewer to get past 60. That doesn’t mean a poison-pill amendment can’t be introduced to upset Democrats or that some Democrats won’t wreck the deal by getting too ambitious, but if the pro-immigration forces stick to the essence of the Gang of 8 bill, it is hard to see why obstructionists like Cruz matter. Moreover, now that the president has suffered one defeat after another, it seems largely in his interest to get a deal on immigration. If not, as a Senate aide is quoted as saying, “I don’t think he can count on getting anything major done for the rest of his term.” No kidding.
Paul, it seems, is taking a cagier approach than Cruz is. He’d like to add into the bill a vote by Congress to certify the border-protection security measures each year. He might get it or get some other concession on security that he can hold up as an achievement to the base. If not, he at least looks like he was trying to be constructive.
Getting the bill through the House is trickier, although positive indications from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggest the sledding is less treacherous than many believed. (The National Review Online’s Robert Costa quotes Boehner from a Monday TV interview as saying, “Primarily, I’m in the camp of, if we fix our immigration system, it may actually help us understand who’s here, why they’re here, and what legal status they have.”) That still leaves a hard road to passage in House committees. Conservatives will object strenuously if the speaker brings to the floor a bill that a majority of his conference doesn’t support. But then Boehner has seen such hurdles before.
In any event, it is not likely going to be the Senate obstructionists who defeat immigration reform. Once you’ve made clear you don’t want the bill in any form that is capable of passing, you effectively cede control of the bill to others (especially when so few votes are needed from Republicans). Provided the Gang of 8 sticks by its deal, passage in the Senate is very possible. Then the action will shift to the House, where Ryan and Boehner will effectively decide the bill’s fate and with it the prospects for a GOP comeback.