Can there really be anyone who didn’t instantly recognize this as the cheap negotiating tactic that it is? To refresh your memory, Democrats have been threatening for the past month to add an amendment to the Gang of Eight bill that would extend spousal benefits for illegals under the bill to gay spouses too. That’s a potential dealbreaker for Republicans, who’ll have a hard enough time explaining their amnesty vote to conservatives next year without explaining a vote for gay marriage on top of it. Would Democrats insist upon it, thereby wrecking this horrible left-wing dream legislation, with sham border enforcement and millions of new Democratic-leaning Latino voters added to the voter rolls in a decade or two? Or would they, with ostentatiously heavy hearts, withdraw the amendment in the spirit of “compromise,” full in the knowledge that this provision will be quietly added to the bill a few years from now when support for gay marriage has made further inroads in the congressional GOP?

Let’s solve the mystery:

Leahy introduced the bill just a half-hour earlier, but then, as Immigration Equality executive director Rachel Tiven told BuzzFeed, “I was shocked — and I suspect he was too — that not a single member of that committee joined him in saying, ‘These are immigrant families, too. I care about these families.’”

Leahy received expected opposition from Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake to the provision, but the introduction also was opposed by four Democratic senators — Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Al Franken…

“If we make the effort to make [the protections] part of this bill, they will walk away,” Schumer said. “They’ve said it publicly. They’ve told me privately. I believe them.”…

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin took aim primarily at Republican opposition in a statement, saying that “it is deplorable that a small number of Senators have been able to stand in the way of progress for lesbian and gay couples torn apart by discriminatory laws” and calling out Senators Graham, Flake, John McCain and Marco Rubio for “threaten[ing] to derail the entire immigration bill to appease a small but vocal group of anti-gay social conservatives.”

As I said once before, and as any fifth-grader of average intelligence could have surmised, the whole point of floating this amendment was to manufacture a showy “concession” to Republicans when Democrats inevitably withdrew it. The art of passing the immigration bill is to make it as palatable as possible to the conservative base, who can potentially derail it by putting enough pressure on Rubio et al. Watching the Democrats bow on benefits for gay spouses lets GOP amnesty supporters in Congress “prove” that they’re not getting rolled by Schumer and company but are rather forcing the left to make tough compromises. The more they “win” at Obama’s and Schumer’s expense, even though the bill overall is undeniably a loss, the easier it is to reassure grassroots righties who aren’t paying close attention that this is a true bipartisan deal. The same basic logic explains why Rubio, more than any other Republican, has been throwing roundhouses at Obama lately for the IRS scandal. The tougher he is on O, the more low-information GOP voters will trust that he’s not making a bad deal on immigration.

It’s theater, and it has the double benefit for Democrats of putting Republicans on the defensive on gay marriage, which won’t do the GOP any favors with the young voters it’s increasingly trying to appeal to. (Some polls show majority support for gay marriage among Latino voters too, which complicates the Republican task of a grand pander to Latinos with this bill.) That’s what the boldfaced bit in the excerpt above is all about — even though the gay-rights group could have ripped Schumer, Durbin, Franken, and Feinstein for betraying gay rights with their votes, they did the smart Democratic thing and used it as a pure bludgeon against Republicans. The immigration bill remains on track and the GOP gets some more bad press on gays. Win/win for the left. In fact, here’s the least surprising element in all this:

Two people familiar with the Senate immigration deliberations say the White House has suggested to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy that it would be best to put off a controversy over gay marriage until a bill goes before the full Senate.

President Barack Obama backs the proposal to give equal treatment to gays and lesbians, but is unlikely to veto a broad immigration bill that does not include the provision.

Of course he won’t veto it if it lacks the provision on gay spouses. He wants the bill to pass. Why wouldn’t he? That’s been obvious since day one, despite occasional murmurings about O wanting to sabotage the bill so that he has a wedge issue to use against the GOP with Latinos in 2014. The smart thing to do is to pass the bill and then start demagoging Republicans anyway for the stuff in the new law that Democrats/Latinos don’t like — a 15-year waiting period for citizenship, “onerous” border enforcement requirements, and of course the provision on gay spouses that young voters will frown upon. They’ll probably bring up the gay-spouse provision again next month when the bill comes to the Senate floor, maybe even as an amendment to force the GOP to vote it down, just for the political value they’ll wring from that later. But as I say, it’s all for show. And it’s a show Rubio et al. will endure, because if they take Bill Kristol’s advice and walk away now, Obama really will hit them full force next year as being anti-Latino rather than merely anti-terrible-bill.

The Judiciary Committee ended up voting 13-5 to send the bill to the full Senate. Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, and good ol’ Orrin Hatch all voted yes. Exit question: Why isn’t Mitch McConnell preventing this bill from coming to the floor? The question answers itself, doesn’t it?