In recent years, Republicans have run a certain playbook so often that it has become an online meme. GOP senators hint at support for Democratic initiatives only if more concessions are offered, yet that support almost never materializes — a game memorialized in a thousand GIFs of Lucy yanking away the football, snookering poor Charlie Brown again and again.

Republicans are preparing a new version of this scam. But Democrats appear to be developing a response.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democrats are actively exploring whether to employ the “reconciliation” process to pass immigration reforms by a simple majority, a source familiar with their thinking confirms to me.

The movement toward employing this tactic — which would enable Democrats to pass immigration bills despite GOP filibusters — is developing in response to obvious Republican efforts to rerun the Lucy-and-the-football trick, albeit tailored to the immigration issue.

This is inescapably clear from a new piece in the New York Times, which first reported on Schumer’s thinking about reconciliation. Schumer is exploring whether to attach an overhaul of immigration laws to President Biden’s infrastructure package and pass it by simple majority.

This overhaul would include extending legal status to “dreamers” brought here illegally as children, to people who have been granted temporary protected status, to farmworkers, and possibly to undocumented essential workers. That would legalize a few million people or more, which falls short of the 11 million people Democrats hope to legalize as part of comprehensive reform, but would represent real progress.

A group of 15 Republican and Democratic senators have been negotiating over legislation to accomplish some of these aims. But as the Times reports, there is “little agreement in sight,” and Democrats fear they may “squander a rare opportunity to legalize broad swaths of the undocumented population” while they control Washington.

The latest Lucy-and-the-football scam

Why might an agreement fail? Because Republicans are warning that Congress must not act on immigration until it addresses the influx of migrants at the southern border, the Times notes:

“Before we can do anything meaningful on immigration, we’re going to have to deal with the current crisis at the border,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who has been involved in the bipartisan talks. “I don’t think the public is going to tolerate us ignoring this crisis, and it’s just going to get worse unless we deal with it.”

What an utter crock. Here’s how this scam works: There is no point at which Republicans will ever acknowledge that this “crisis” is being managed. They have already telegraphed that they hope to win back control of Congress in 2022 largely with a message hyping this “crisis.” As Media Matters documents, right-wing media is all in with this strategy.

Does anybody imagine there will come a point when Republicans will say, “Okay, Biden’s totally got the border under control now, so let’s get serious about working with Democrats on legalizing a lot of immigrants”?

Of course not. As it happens, the number of kids held at Border Patrol stations has dropped dramatically, partly because the administration has opened up new spaces to hold them before transfer to guardians. Apprehensions at the border are still high but leveling off.

What’s more, the administration is currently expelling large numbers of asylum-seeking adults and families, unconscionably so, without due process. Republicans pretend this isn’t happening, because it wrecks their spin that Biden’s “permissiveness” is drawing the influx.

It’s true that kids have arrived in unprecedented numbers, creating serious humanitarian challenges. As a useful American Immigration Council overview shows, we will inevitably see more seasonal spikes in arrivals, and there’s a long way to go before this is managed, which will require far-reaching legal reforms.

It’s possible Republicans might prove willing to negotiate limited immigration solutions, particularly on the dreamers. But the point is, empirical facts about the border situation will not be the impetus for any such willingness, and those facts will be wholly unrelated to how Republicans continue to characterize that situation.

What’s more, talks over protecting dreamers are already in trouble. Some Republicans are using the “crisis” to demand legal changes in exchange that would functionally gut asylum-seeking, even though numerous GOP senators previously expressed support for legalizing dreamers.

“It is increasingly obvious Republicans aren’t serious about negotiating a breakthrough,” Kerri Talbot, the deputy director of the Immigration Hub, told me. “Democrats shouldn’t be held hostage.”

Lucy will keep yanking the football

To be clear, it’s far from obvious reconciliation will work. It’s anybody’s guess whether Biden will agree to this, given his foot-dragging on immigration. It’s also unclear whether the Senate parliamentarian will agree that these immigration changes would have budgetary impact that is not “incidental,” which is the threshold.

The Times reports that Democrats have unearthed an example of reconciliation being approved on immigration reforms in 2005, something Republicans praised at the time. Democrats believe this could help their case.

That remains to be seen. But in the interim, it will be argued that if Democrats do this, they risk “overreaching” on immigration, costing them the House, imperiling more reform later. But it would be folly to count on the idea that refraining on this issue will keep the House, which could easily go Republican in part due to extreme gerrymanders.

And so, when Lucy keeps yanking away the football, as she inevitably will, Democrats need to be ready to act alone, God and the parliamentarian willing.

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