Now that an immigration bill has cleared the Senate, many on the right and left are certain it will die in the House. Didn’t the speaker say it was DOA? Well, sort of.
No one expects the House to take up the Senate bill. The House will start from scratch. The GOP wish-list items (e.g. E-verify) that didn’t make it into the Senate bill will be included, and they can stick in plenty of “trigger” language (even though the Senate bill requires multiple actions and 10 years before anyone gets to apply for a green card).
The House may well be motivated to move forward, ironically because of GOP senators who opposed the Gang of 8 plan. These GOP senators who voted against the Senate bill swear they are for immigration reform, just not the Senate’s version. Fine. So they can encourage and cheer their dream bill. Something in all likelihood can get a GOP majority and make it out of the House.
Moreover, as one House aide (not in the speaker’s or any leadership office) put it, “Boehner, in almost all skirmishes in recent memory, understands the big picture, is grounded in reality, and does his best given the limits of 218.” His interest is in getting an immigration that a majority of his conference can buy, not in making sure no bill comes out.
There are also outside pro-immigration groups organized during the Senate fight that will increase their support for passage of a bill. Those include Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’ s high tech group; a GOP alliance including the Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Forum, and Americans for Tax Reform; and other third-party donors who can run ads, pledge money to pro-reform House members and help bat down opponents’ misstatements.
Moreover, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has strong conservative credentials, will be there to remind critics there is a great opportunity in the House to get it right, push back on common attacks and reject efforts to cling to the status quo. He’s already been on talk shows making his case. And his well-publicized effort with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) suggests he is firmly in the pro-immigration-reform camp.
I don’t suggest this will be easy. There are a lot of hardliners dead set against any bill. Moreover, according to Republicans, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, (Calif.), has until now yanked back on Democratic members trying to come up with a bipartisan bill. That has got to stop if President Obama is going to get something, anything, done in his second term.
Unlike senators and presidential candidates, GOP representatives may see little upside to supporting any bill. However, those who have significant numbers of minorities (Hispanic or otherwise) in their districts, and/or those who need to gather support from women and younger voters, should remember that immigration reform is becoming a gateway issue, an indicator as to whether a politician is “tolerant” and “inclusive.” They stand to lose more than Hispanic votes by mimicking talk show hosts.
Meanwhile, there is the presidential dynamic to consider. The top tier contenders (e.g. Ryan, Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush) for good reason are generally pro-immigration. (Rand Paul for now is neither fish nor fowl, having talked a good game on immigration reform but voted against the only vehicle to get reform.) To win any general election they’ll have to do better with nonwhite voters than did Mitt Romney.
In other words, a considerable number of party stars and their supporters will be encouraging, not attacking, pro-reform representatives. What about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)? Well, though he’s been getting on a lot of talk shows, ratcheting up the rhetoric, and smearing fellow conservatives, he hasn’t shown much influence. In other words, there will be more than ample cover for pro-immigration representatives to counter the pinpricks from anti-immigration forces.
And finally, as we draw closer to the 2014 midterms we will see more and more polling data on immigration and on approval ratings for senators who voted on the issue. Those campaigns and the polling that accompanies them will exert some influence on the House.
Saying the Gang of 8 bill is DOA in the House is fluff — meaningless to both the GOP House members and outside groups. What counts is what, if anything, comes out of the House and whether some measure can be devised to get at least half of the GOP caucus on board. Certain? Not remotely. Possible? Definitely.