This Congress only acts when it absolutely has to. We got a resolution to the fiscal cliff and a debt ceiling increase because those were necessary. We won’t get tax reform or a sequestration replacement because those are optional.
This week, we learned that Republicans really do view passing comprehensive immigration reform as an imperative. I’m ready to call this: It’s going to pass.
There have been two big developments. One is that House Speaker John Boehner won’t rule out passing a bill that lacks majority support from the Republican caucus — likely the only way a bill with a path to citizenship can pass the House.
The other is that Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) announced her support for the comprehensive Senate bill. Crucially, the Huffington Post reports that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the pro-reform Gang of Eight, was actually urging Ayotte to delay announcing her support.
This is weird, but there’s a reason. Rubio and other pro-reform conservatives want changes to the bill. Roughly, these are the proposals that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) is going to put forward in an amendment to spend more on border security and delay the normalization of status for unauthorised immigrants until border agents are apprehending at least 90 per cent of people trying to cross the border illegally.
Democrats view this as a poison pill that will delay legalization indefinitely, and they really don’t want it in the bill. To get it, Rubio and Cornyn have to convince them that the only way to get enough Republican votes for passage is to include such a provision. They need people like Ayotte to hold out. But the forces within the GOP that favour immigration reform are too strong for that to happen.
Establishment Republican forces in Washington desperately want comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship and an increase in legal immigration. Business interests view reform as something that will grow the economy and create opportunities for investment; they may also hope that it will push wages down.
Republican operatives believe that passing immigration reform is a necessary step to improve the party’s standing with the growing Hispanic demographic.
Not only do these constituencies really want a bill, they don’t care about border security and so they don’t even view the Cornyn Amendment as a bonus. Rubio and Cornyn’s meddling with the bill is all downside.
A comprehensive bill will pass the Senate with the votes of enough Republicans to get past 60 votes. When it gets to the House, Boehner will be in an uncomfortable position: There will be enough votes for passage, but most of his caucus will vote against it, and some will be angry that he brought it up.
But that would be true even if the Senate bill were amended to Rubio and Cornyn’s liking. Most House Republicans won’t vote for any bill with a path to citizenship. And there is a key difference between not wanting to vote for a comprehensive immigration reform bill and not wanting one to pass.
For many, many House Republicans, the ideal situation is for a reform bill to pass over their objections. Business interests will get the bill they want, Democrats will be deprived of a powerful talking point with Hispanic voters, and individual house members will be able to tell conservative primary voters that they tried to “stop amnesty.” Win, win, win.
This is why Boehner isn’t as “embattled” as you often hear. He’s a useful punching bag for the conservatives in his own caucus, who know that Republicans must agree to various things that conservative primary voters hate. That’s the role he’s preparing to play again on immigration.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.