Immigration Reform Has No Pulse

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Let’s kick things off on a high note today: A body doesn’t become a corpse until sometime after it loses its pulse. That might not be strictly correct biologically speaking. Biologists probably don’t refer to dead bodies as corpses. But metaphysically, it’s possible for a human who has flatlined to be resuscitated and then return to health.

Which brings me to immigration reform.As we noted yesterday morning, if immigration reform has a pulse, it’s very weak. Shortly afterward, it became undetectable. The key moment came when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — the leading Democratic author of the Senate’s immigration bill — laid things out for House Speaker John Boehner.

“Without a path to citizenship, there is not going to be a bill,” he said. “There can’t be a bill.”

Convening a conference committee with a House Republican bill that does not include a path to citizenship, he added, would amount to a “a path to a cul-de-sac, to no immigration bill.”

In a Tuesday meeting with fellow Democrats, Schumer laid out Boehner’s five options, according to the New York Times.

“[D]oing nothing; opting for a piecemeal approach of several separate but related immigration bills; passing a comprehensive bill that does not include a path to citizenship; passing a comprehensive bill that does include a path to citizenship that is different, and likely stricter, than the one offered in the Senate bill; or taking up the legislation that has passed the Senate.”

We still don’t know for sure what the House will do. But under Schumer’s terms, options one, two and three are deal breakers. Option four is extraordinarily unlikely under the constraints House Republicans have imposed on themselves (the Hastert rule, the preference for a pathway that’s “triggered” once the border is secure in some abstract sense). Boehner has ruled out option five.

So the question is whether House Republicans can get it together enough to do something like option four, in a way that wins support from at least half the conference, but that doesn’t cop out on citizenship.

Here’s why I don’t think that’s possible: Even if the House GOP pulls off the unthinkable and puts a bill on the floor that includes a citizenship component — even one that’s “triggered” — conservatives will recognize it as a feint. They’ll be convinced, perhaps correctly, that the Senate position will win the day in conference, and that they’ll be faced with a take-it-or-leave-it proposition once the bill is really, truly finalized.

So they’ll withhold support for that reason. And suddenly the bill will no longer be Hastert rule compliant.

That’s why I think we’re in the defibrillation stage. Republicans are meeting today to discuss their options. But it could nevertheless be a very long defibrillation stage. They could drag this out for months before settling on terms of eventual citizenship. Democrats could fold on “triggering” the citizenship guarantee — or come to terms with the GOP on something that could be sold as both a “trigger” and a guarantee. Boehner could step up, break the Hastert rule, probably lose his job. But these are all pretty implausible scenarios. Particularly given how averse House Republicans and movement folks have become even to highly conservative legislation that they recognize as a potential vehicle for compromise.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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