Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wait... What's Happening to Immigration Reform?

Just before the Nevada Legislature adjourned sine die, Nevada lawmakers passed and Governor Brian Sandoval (R) quickly signed into law SB 303. The new Nevada law allows for undocumented immigrants and other individuals with difficulties accessing their personal documents (like domestic violence victims) to obtain driver's authorization cards. And as we've discussed before, the Nevada Legislature had to pass SB 303 and do something about this matter because we haven't seen action on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) from "You-know-where".

Instead, we've been seeing plenty of this.

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Even for [Senator Marco] Rubio [R-Florida], this is bizarre. The Florida Republican had concerns about provisions related to border security, which he worked out through the "Gang of Eight" negotiations -- his colleagues made the changes he wanted to see, which in turn led Rubio to endorse the bipartisan legislation.

But now the senator is moving the goalposts, saying the changes that have already been made aren't good enough, and unless he's able to move his bill even further to the right, Rubio is prepared to reject his own legislation. [...]

He is, in other words, apparently prepared to betray his allies.

And why would Rubio do this? Because the Republican Party's radicalized base opposes comprehensive reform, and Rubio's support for the bill will undermine his future career ambitions, including a likely run for national office in 2016. [Update: Adam Serwer notes this is ultimately pointless, since the right will still resent the fact that he helped write a bill they hate, and the left will resent the fact that he walked away from a deal reached in good faith.]

There is an important caveat to all of this: Rubio has waffled before. I don't recall him going as far as he did with Hugh Hewitt, but the Florida Republican occasionally waffles, only to be brought back into the fold. Reform proponents can hope that McCain and Graham will give him a call this morning, Rubio will walk back his comments from yesterday, and the process will move forward. Rubio isn't a policy guy, so it's possible he got rattled yesterday and said what he didn't entirely mean.

But if we take his words at face value, Rubio has put the future of immigration reform at great risk, basically because he's worried right-wing activists won't like him anymore.

Just as we've been warning for some time, the 21st Century Know Nothings are forcing Republican Congresscritters to abandon CIR. And these Republican Congresscritters are obliging because they're more afraid of losing their next primaries than doing the work the bulk of the American people demand. And now, they're hoping Scandal-mania will provide the perfect cover for killing CIR. Yet no matter how much G-O-TEA acolytes hype up Scandal-mania, that's no substitute for real governance.

As I’ve been saying here for some time, behind all the GOP noise and hoopla about Beltway scandal-palooza is a stark reality that can’t be obscured. House Republicans are confronting two major challenges – what to do about the debt limit and about immigration reform, both of which will require cooperation from House conservatives that they aren’t prepared to give — and they don’t have an answer to either one. [...]

For all the good cheer among Republicans over the ongoing scandals, they still don’t know how to persuade House conservatives to stop acting crazy. They don’t know how to get them to Yes on either the debt limit or on immigration reform. And so later this year the “narrative” could be not about the scandals, but about Republicans. Far right Republicans may well have deep-sixed immigration reform’s hopes — dealing a serious blow to efforts to repair relations with Latinos, which even some Republicans say is essential for the party to remain competitive in national elections. At the same time, the party could well be mired in deep discord over whether to stage another reckless, destructive debt limit crisis that is all about nothing more than giving conservatives the hostage standoff they must have — further underscoring the House GOP’s inability to engage in basic governing.

And what have these Republican Congresscritters accomplished so far? Oh, President Obama's approval rating remains stable (if not inching upward every so often). And Congressional Republicans are still nowhere near a unified message on CIR.

“I think at this point that would be highly unlikely,” Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) told reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor.

“Because I don’t think there’s any trust in our conference in the administration to enforce the current laws that are on the books as they relate to immigration,” he explained. “And not just this administration — it’s been previous administrations as well. … The promises made in [the immigration reform effort of] 1986 have been broken.” [...]

The congressman’s comments, if accurate, suggest that it’ll be a tough slog for proponents of a pathway to citizenship to pass the policy in the House. It would require Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to permit an immigration bill to come to the floor without the support of half his conference — an approach he has typically rejected and shown little appetite for.

Yet amidst all the G-O-TEA sturm und drang, Senator Dean Heller (R-"TEA" Curious) continues with his empty rhetoric and radio silence. Without Heller, the Senate CIR bill will likely fail. So for all Heller's "evolving" on immigration reform and supposed desire to pass sweeping legislation, why won't he speak up now? What will it take for him to step in and try to save this bill his party needs (yet so many in his own party want dead)?

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