The already narrow path to enacting comprehensive immigration reform pretty much disappeared in the past 24 hours.
At the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner stated a specific policy preference Tuesday that will alienate the entire Democratic Party if he adheres to it, and thus doom the reform effort. And elsewhere in the Beltway, influential conservatives have grown more confident and explicit about abandoning the immigration issue, for at least a couple of years.
Taken together, it means that enacting new immigration legislation will either require Democrats to cave on a key demand, or require Boehner to abandon his preference and break his word to his conference that he won’t move ahead without a majority of his members in support.“It’s clear from everything that I’ve seen and read over the last couple of weeks that the American people expect that we’ll have strong border security in place before we begin the process of legalizing and fixing our legal immigration system,” Boehner said outside the Capitol Monday afternoon.
His spokesman Michael Steel explains that the statement is consistent with Boehner’s “long-standing emphasis on border security.”
But it amounts to a de facto endorsement of the conservative view that any steps to legalize existing immigrants should be contingent upon implementation of draconian border policies. As is Boehner’s custom, it also eschews the word “citizenship,” suggesting that even if Democrats agree to a trigger, he won’t guarantee that it would be aimed at a full amnesty program, and, thus, eventual voting rights for immigrants already in the U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called this policy formulation a “poison pill.”
But if conservatives get their way, we’ll never even reach the point at which Boehner or Democrats will face pressure to cave.
In an op-ed for the conservative National Review, Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry called on House Republicans to “kill the bill,” and to face the electorate one or two more times at least with the same problems they’ve had with minority voters the past two presidential elections.
“If Republicans take the Senate and hold the House in 2014, they will be in a much better position to pass a sensible immigration bill,” they write. “At the presidential level in 2016, it would be better if Republicans won more Hispanic voters than they have in the past — but it’s most important that the party perform better among working-class and younger voters concerned about economic opportunity and upward mobility.”
Kristol and Lowry even advise Republicans not to get dragged into a protracted negotiation with the Senate over comprehensive reform. Just drop the issue altogether.
“House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill,” they wrote. “House Republicans can’t find any true common ground with that legislation. Passing any version of the Gang of Eight’s bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing. House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.”