Is Immigration Reform At The Tipping Point?

March 20, 2013 1:29 a.m.

Republicans can now count the leading tea party senator, their brightest 2016 prospect, the speaker of the House, and the chairman of their party as supportive of immigration reform. Meanwhile, anti-reform — even just anti-citizenship — politicians can’t seem to find any oxygen. Among the party’s elites at least, the battle over whether to support the basic planks of comprehensive immigration reform looks like it’s over.

There’s still plenty that can go wrong for reformers: negotiations could get bogged down in the details of a guest worker plan or border security or rank-and-file Republicans could get spooked by a revolt in their home districts. Already, a handful of GOP senators are asking to slow the legislative process down (which is itself a sign of reform’s current momentum), and if it languishes too long its opponents could take the opportunity to organize more effectively. But if immigration reform does pass, this week may mark the tipping point.

Let’s review:• Rand Paul Backs A Path To Citizenship

Paul had flirted with immigration reform before, but he delivered a more detailed speech on Tuesday pledging to play a constructive role in passing a bill. For whatever reason, Paul is still spooked by the phrase “path to citizenship,” which caused some confusion, but he made crystal clear in a call with reporters later in the day that he supports the concept.

The senator’s backing is a big boost to passing a bill. Not only is he revered by tea party activists, but he’s a legitimate presidential contender on the GOP side in his own right. Fellow 2016ers Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are already strongly pro-reform, meaning there are fewer big names left who could frighten the rest of the presidential hopefuls into backing down if they decide to go full nativist. Jeb Bush flirted with a plan to the right of Rubio, Ryan, and Paul in his book that would explicitly bar illegal immigrants from citizenship only to find little support on the right for the idea and a backlash from everyone else. He walked back his position within days.

• The RNC Cries Uncle

It’s very rare for the Republican National Committee to delve into policy, so it’s a genuinely big deal that their official report on the 2012 election concluded that immigration reform was critical to rebuilding the party’s brand with Latinos. RNC chairman Reince Priebus hedged on whether he supports a path to citizenship when asked for details on reform, but the more significant takeaway is that the GOP’s leadership has decided that passing a bill is an absolute must on political grounds alone.

As a sign of how far the GOP has come since their November loss, Priebus told CNN he was shocked by Mitt Romney’s prescription of “self-deportation,” saying the remark was “not our party’s position” — apparently forgetting that the same concept was in the GOP platform that Priebus’ RNC approved just months earlier.

• Speaker Boehner Moves Closer To Reform

A bipartisan group in the House is getting close to a deal on immigration reform, and one of the participants, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), told reporters on Tuesday that it will include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Gutierrez represents the House’s left pole on immigration, so it’s significant that the closer his group gets to a final agreement, the closer Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) associates himself with their efforts. On Tuesday, he said the House group’s plan “is frankly a pretty responsible solution.”

On budget issues, Boehner has been prevented from drifting too far to the center by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who is close with the conservative wing of the House. But Cantor has been moving left on immigration himself. The No. 3 Republican in the House, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), predicted earlier this month on CNN that there would be enough Republican votes to pass some version of reform.

• Reformers Are Speaking Out

CPAC may not have been the greatest platform for minority outreach this year, but it was notable for its large number of pro-immigration and Latino speakers. One pollster, Whit Ayres, all but begged activists to support an immigration bill if only to prevent Latino voters from destroying America and replacing it with “secular socialism.”

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