In dissecting the anti-immigration reform conservatives’ paper-thin objections to comprehensive reform yesterday, I generally stuck to policy matters since ostensibly the House is there to govern as best as it is able.

Jeb Bush Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald / Associated Press)

But there is always a political angle, and immigration is certainly no different. However, the political argument has been distorted by very loud voices and flabby punditry. The  Wall Street Journal editorial board gives some sound advice:

The dumbest strategy is to follow the Steve King anti-immigration caucus and simply let the Senate bill die while further militarizing the border. This may please the loudest voices on talk radio, but it ignores the millions of
evangelical Christians, Catholic conservatives, business owners and  free-marketers who support reform. The GOP can support a true conservative opportunity society or become a party of closed minds and borders.

In other words, the question is: Do House Republicans get baited by the fans of Sarah Palin (and other characters) into doubling down on the party’s unsavory image, or do they show the voters something different?

It is noteworthy that the most successful and popular Republican officials — governors — are among the strongest backers of immigration reform. Maybe they understand something about good governance and building a political base that eludes those in the echo chamber who insist “self-deportation” isn’t offensive and Hispanics don’t care about immigration reform.

In other contexts (e.g. entitlement reform), the same voices criticizing immigration reform have urged the House to go bold and be willing to defend their views to Americans. There they commended Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and others for showing leadership by working on a festering problem that, while not immediate, gets worse with every passing year. Yet when it comes to immigration reform, they counsel timidity and irresponsibility. I would argue that immigration reform is far more urgent at this time than entitlement reform, which is going nowhere anyway.

The voices intent on savaging Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other reformers offer flimsy excuses for the House not to act on immigration reform, but the reasons for acting are real and numerous:

1. There is a serious, growth-impeding shortage of high-skilled labor. We are losing foreign students with advanced degrees.

2. Immigration, according to the CBO and every conservative think tank but one, will cut the deficit and increase growth.

3. National security requires we not only finish securing the border, but reduce visa overstays and focus on who is here and who shouldn’t be.

4. Like it or not, with the White House and Senate in Democratic hands, the House is the face of the national GOP for most voters. As the Journal editors observe: “The Republican-led House has tried to sell itself as a party of solutions. To
fail to fix any part of an immigration system that everyone agrees is contrary
to U.S. economic interests, and after the Senate has passed a bipartisan reform,
would play into Democratic charges that House Republicans are mere

5. Republicans risk looking like hypocrites if they abandon immigration reform after hyping the problem of illegal immigration. The problem, we were told, was so serious Arizona had to pass its own (unconstitutional) plan. It was so serious Republicans pounded the table insisting that “the wall” be built. Now the answer is, there’s no rush to act?

6. The House held the line on sequestration and limited the repeal of the Bush tax cuts. But otherwise it has accomplished nothing. What is the argument for giving the GOP a majority in the Senate and keeping the House majority if the result (getting nothing done, shooting down compromise) would be more of the same?

Immigration may be a case in which individual self-interest (e.g. a Georgia congressman’s fear of being primaried) outweighs the collective interests of the party and country. It wouldn’t be the first time. But then the cowering lawmakers and their media pom-pom wavers should be honest: They won’t pass important legislation because they are scared of a virulent anti-immigration challenge from the right. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s not dress it up as responsible governance.