Reformers: Don’t Worry, Josh, We Got This


Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, one of if not the top immigration reform advocate in the country, responds to my post yesterday (“Immigration Reformers, Wake the F’Up!“) in “An open letter to Josh Marshall and other immigration reform pessimists who might be interested.”

First, a necessary preliminary. I have great respect for Sharry and believe deeply in the reform he’s done so much to bring to the brink of success.

So here’s my response.Frank makes a strong argument. I disagree on key points but, more hopefully, on others I think we’re talking past each other.

If I thought the immigration reform movement and fight were over or hopeless (like fixing or re-passing the Voting Rights Act at any time in the near future likely is) then I wouldn’t bother writing a post like I did. I wouldn’t really care. It would be a moot point. Frank has a series of bullet points about how the immigration reform movement is getting strong in terms of grass roots, coalition strength, economic and moral arguments and much more. One of the most positive signs I’ve seen is what the irreplaceable Molly Ball notes in her Atlantic piece today which is that the antis have basically been a flop in the town hall wars of August while reformers have been out in force. I happily sign to every item on the list. Frank, you’re totally right. Reform is getting stronger and a GOP who stands in its way is going to be signing its death warrant. But that is precisely why I wrote what I wrote.

Frank, at the end of your note you write, “And if they get to no, we will bury them.” To which I would say, “Frank, let’s just assume it’s no and start burying them now.” This isn’t a matter of gamesmanship in my mind, getting credit for ‘calling’ it before others. My point is that whether the goal is a bill this year or a win in 2014 that makes a bill possible in 2015, it’s time to switch modes.

What I’ve heard from many in response to my post is to say basically, look once we’re certain this is dead there will be plenty of time to bludgeon the Republicans with its failure in time for 2014. So basically let it simmer in the committees and see whether they really have the guts to kill this thing. But why wait? Why not start the bludgeoning now and that bludgeoning might shake free enough Republicans that you actually do get a bill during this Congress? Shifting modes improves odds on both time horizons.

As a general principle I think voters, above all, need clarity. And when you’ve got public opinion on your side you should always be looking for more clarity. This is what was so worrisome to me in early 2005 when the Social Security ‘debate’ got rolling in Congress. For the Social Security supporters there were coalitions and petitions and a lot of tea-leaf reading about what the ‘Democrats’ were going to do or this faction or that faction. But enough of that. The real issue was what a relatively small handful of Republicans and Democrats were going to do. And as always, politicians in that position will do everything they can to keep their stance opaque and fluid, to keep their options open. It’s the same thing right now in the GOP House.

A great deal of Congress’s unpopularity is that for so many voters it’s simply an undifferentiated thing that can’t accomplish things for the common good. That opacity is the enemy of reform and the ally of whoever is on the wrong side of public opinion.

Boehner is too weak to rely on to pull this off. So who are the 20 or 30 Republicans most likely to flip or to be vulnerable to the consequences of reform failing? Who cares even if they’ve already come out in favor. It’s still their party identification that’s killing reform. Voters need clarity. And when public opinion and demographics are on your side, the more clarity the better. I’m reasonably well informed about politics. But I don’t know where that list is. I’d be shining a really bright light on each individual member in that group: Rep. X in District Y who’s responsible for killing reform. I’d also be insisting on a specific answers and publicizing them or pillorying them for their waffling if they refuse.

I’m pretty pessimistic about the chances for a bill this year. But legislative bills are like Lazarus. Even when they’re dead they can be revived. What I see happening is this bill (which I wholly agree has the future on its side) dying a slow depth in the nefarious jungle of Congressional bamboozlement. I want reformers to stop pretending that House Republicans aren’t telling us what they’re telling us, which is that they’re killing it. Take them at their word and start making them pay the price. If they can’t take the heat and flip now, awesome. If not, better for 2014.

Masthead Masthead
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