House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn’t backing down from his position that the House will deal with the immigration issue piece-by-piece and won’t vote on the Senate-passed bill.
And he’s got good reason.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll offers plenty of insights as to why Boehner doesn’t feel much pressure to simply allow a vote on the Senate immigration bill, which earned the support of two-thirds of the Senate a month ago.
Let’s recap them:
1. It’s not popular
While a path to citizenship and increased border security are clearly popular by themselves, the Senate immigration bill as a package does not get overwhelming – or even majority – support. In fact, Americans are pretty lukewarm on it, with 46 percent in favor and 44 percent against. In other words, it’s not like Americans are clamoring for this one piece of legislation.
2. The opposition is louder
The numbers get worse for the Senate bill once you drill down. Just 19 percent of Americans support the bill “strongly,” while 30 percent oppose it strongly. And in politics, it’s often the people who feel strongly who donate money and vote.
3. Supporters aren’t angry enough
While polls have shown a new path to citizenship for illegal immigrants has the clear support of a majority of Americans, just 50 percent say they would be “disappointed” if it doesn’t pass, compared to 40 percent who would be “relieved.” And among the 50 percent that would be disappointed, just 13 percent say they would be “angry."
In addition, just 63 percent of those who would be disappointed would blame Republicans, so we're really talking about less than one-third of Americans being disappointed and blaming Republicans for it. So it’s not like there would be a huge and instant public backlash if Republicans balk on the citizenship piece (and the vast majority of those who would be angry or blame Republicans likely favor Democrats anyway).
4. Americans actually like Boehner’s approach
The most illustrative number in the whole poll: When asked whether they want the House to vote on the Senate bill or break down the issue into individual pieces, just 32 percent choose the Senate bill and 53 percent choose the piecemeal approach.
Much of the coverage of the immigration issue has focused on the fact that a path to citizenship is popular and that Americans want Congress to pass something. So when the Senate passed a bill that included a path to citizenship along with tough new border security elements that earned some GOP support, it seemed like an approach that Americans could support.
But this poll makes it pretty clear that the American people aren’t really all that on-board with the Senate bill, and thus there is no overwhelming pressure on Boehner and GOP leaders to allow a vote on it.
In fact, you can make a pretty convincing case that Boehner’s approach is the one that Americans prefer. (Though critics would note that it’s much less likely to produce legislation that addresses all the issues the Senate bill would.)
In the end, the Senate bill is a political loser for Boehner. He would risk his speakership and legacy by allowing a vote on a major piece of legislation that a clear majority of House Republicans oppose (in violation of the so-called "Hastert Rule"), and it might not even pass anyway, if you believe some Republicans.
Yes, there is an argument to be made that Republicans need to do this for the long-term health of their party – particularly when it comes to stopping the GOP’s hemorrhaging among the fast-growing Latino population. The Post-ABC poll shows that 83 percent of Hispanics would be "disappointed" if there were no path to citizenship, and 56 percent of them would blame Republicans, compared to 16 percent who would blame President Obama.
But we live in an age of instant gratification, in which Congress basically needs one of two things to pass major legislation: a hard deadline or overwhelming public pressure. And preferably both.
When it comes to the Senate immigration bill, there is neither.
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