This Is What The Upper Hand Looks Like

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This got buried yesterday under an avalanche of Supreme Court news, but it could end up being a significant barrier to comprehensive immigration reform, so it’s worth revisiting.

The short version is that Janet Napolitano sat down with reporters yesterday and effectively rejected one of the GOP’s key CIR demands — that any path to citizenship remain locked until border security is strengthened to meet some measurable, yet to be determined standard.She essentially said that creating such a metric is exceedingly complicated — perhaps impossible — and that even if DHS could devise one, it wouldn’t be sound or just to keep 11 million undocumented immigrants in limbo for as long as it might take to limit crossings, reduce crime, improve property values, and so on and so on along the southwest border.

In other words, if CIR includes a “triggered” path to citizenship, it will almost certainly be an ersatz trigger. That puts folks like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio in a genuinely awkward position. Either they don whatever diaphanous fig leaf Democrats hand them, and claim, incredibly, that they got what they wanted. Or they stick to their guns and abandon immigration reform altogether.

The whole episode illustrates a more general problem inherent to the approach they’ve taken to negotiating CIR. They’re aware their voters are going to be apoplectic if and when they sign off on a bill that includes eventual amnesty, so they’re trying to extract a pound of flesh elsewhere in the legislation — ideally in a way that’ll directly limit the consequences of creating a pathway to citizenship. They need that cover. So they’re make their demands public. But the politics of the issue are such that Democrats don’t need to come anywhere close to meeting them.

Maybe in the end Republicans will win a significant concession. But until then, they’re just setting themselves up for one of two damaging outcomes: a series of embarrassing caves, or spiking the legislation entirely.

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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