We are seeing in the swirl of contentious debate over the immigration bill signs of multiple conflicting goals, some policy driven and others political. Let’s see if we can break it down:
Gang of Eight Republicans: These are the pols who took the most risk and want a deal on comprehensive reform. They have learned over the last few months that they can’t budge their fellow Republicans without doing more on border security.
Gang of Eight Democrats: They’d like a bill, but one leaning leftward, which to them means weaker border security measures. If the Senate really is in danger of flipping to the Republicans, they might lower expectations, understanding that any bill coming out of a Senate with a Republican majority will be a lot less to their liking than what they can get now.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.): He’s put forth a plan with full approval of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that turns the triggers in the Gang of Eight into a prerequisite for a path to citizenship. It is likely sufficient to get a good number of Republicans on board, but the left is working overtime to undermine it and attack Cornyn personally. America’s Voice, a liberal pro-immigration group, is blasting out e-mails with this sort of rhetoric: “If immigration reform doesn’t pass this year, the Republican Party has the most to lose. A sweeping majority (87%) would blame them in whole (39%) or in part (48%). With their Latino numbers already approaching bottom, the GOP cannot afford to go through another election cycle with this issue hanging out there.” In other words, they intend to blame Republicans if they don’t get a bill.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): Rand Paul marches to his own drummer, but he says he is pro-reform. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he has fashioned his own border security measures, (which so far have not drawn support from other Republicans). His latest proposal, entitled “Trust but Verify,” put out this week would mandate “a vote by Congress every year, for 5 years, on whether or not the border is secure. If the border is not secure, then the processing of undocumented immigrants stops until it is verified by a vote of Congress. ” If the Congress is in Democratic hands it would not provide much solace for worried conservative. His chief of staff Doug Stafford argues, “Senator Paul’s amendments address the problems in the underlying bill, especially the lack of true border security. Congress must write the details, not delegate them to the administration. And Congress must vote each year to ensure that this is not a repeat of 1986 where promises were never kept.”
In short, Paul isn’t in the thick of the deal making, but so far he doesn’t appear working to sink the Gang of Eight. After promising a lot to California donors and Silicon Valley execs if he winds up voting against a final bill, he’ll have a lot of explaining to do.
Anti-immigration Republicans: Either because they believe it or because they are playing to the right-wing base, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Mike Lee (Utah) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) are out to sink the Gang of Eight’s bill and will do whatever it takes (e.g. filibuster, offer poison pills) to stop it.
Red state Democrats: These are an endangered species in 2014. Some will figure as they did when they voted against gun legislation, they can’t vote for any immigration bill, no matter what. (They are the Democrats’ version of Ted Cruz.) Others, like Republicans, will need some evidence they didn’t ignore border security. It is not clear they have enough mojo to rein in liberals who’d rather have no deal at all.
Anti-deal liberals: As I wrote yesterday, I am not sure whether this includes the president or Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The voices in outside groups, in campaign operations and in Congress want a very, very liberal bill or to sink the whole effort. In fact, the two are one and the same because a very, very liberal bill won’t pass. In other words there are liberals whose ideal outcome is no deal, fodder for anti-GOP ads next November and a campaign of vilification against Republicans.
The White House: Here, the White House and President Obama’s base might diverge (as on anti-terrorism). If Obama doesn’t get something, his second term will accomplish exactly nothing. It is unrealistic at this point to swing the House his way, so simply scuttling the bill and blaming Republicans isn’t very satisfying. The question remains: Can he exert any influence on the left-wing of his party in order to get a deal that can pass?