We hope the thinking behind the prospective push on immigration by the House Republican leadership isn’t as sloppy as the statement of “principles” it released at the conference retreat in Cambridge, Md., yesterday. But that seems a wan hope. The principles could be the opening foray in one of the most mystifyingly stupid misadventures in recent congressional history, so perhaps it is appropriate that they were vague, sophomoric, and poorly written…

For some reason, House Republicans have fastened on eventual citizenship as the key issue. It isn’t. What will matter most to the illegal population is getting legalized. The experience of the 1986 amnesty was that most formerly illegal immigrants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to become citizens. And it is the legalization itself that will act as a magnet to new illegal immigrants. They will take notice that we eventually welcome anyone who manages to come here to live and work in defiance of our laws…

We set out some of our policy objections to all this earlier in the week, and Mark Krikorian has written in detail about an alternative. But we continue to be stunned that House Republicans would even consider anything like this in the current political environment. It is inviting a poisonous intramural political brawl, and the base of the party will — justifiably — feel betrayed if an amnesty actually passes.

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Some conservative lawmakers, like immigration reform foe Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), said the party should do nothing. Others, like Díaz-Balart and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), offered full support for the leadership principles and a green light for moving on to legislation.

But a large contingent of members stood up to urge caution and voiced concerns not so much with the substance of the principles as with the timing of pushing immigration reform in an election year and under a Democratic president they don’t trust to enforce the law

Distrust of President Obama, Díaz-Balart said in a phone interview, was “the biggest issue” that Republicans raised.

“I think we can get there, but that’s the biggest challenge,” he said. “We got a lot [of pushback] on the timing and a lot on the trust issue.

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President Barack Obama didn’t rule out taking some sort of executive action on deportations, saying Friday he is still “modestly optimistic” immigration reform will be passed this year but would consider other options if it fails.

“It is my firm belief that we can get immigration reform done this year,” he said on a Google Hangout hosted by the White House. “I don’t want to pre-suppose that we can’t. Obviously, if at some point we see that it’s not getting done, I’m going to look at all options to make sure that we have a rational, smart system of immigration.”…

Taking some sort of executive action, or even hinting he might do so, would likely only worsen Republicans’ distrust of Obama’s willingness to enforce immigration law, which they’ve held up as a top reason to leave reform alone.

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The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee said Thursday that the House won’t vote on an overhaul of immigration laws for several months.

“When you lay out a major policy initiative like immigration, I don’t know when it’s going to appear on the schedule,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said to reporters at the party’s retreat here. “My hunch is it doesn’t come up tomorrow. It’s probably months out, I don’t know. But the point would be most of the primaries would’ve faded by then, anyway. By the time you get to June, most of them are behind you.”

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A senior Democratic aide who has worked for years on the House’s immigration-reform effort acknowledged that “timing of the bill is a big part of it.”

“Some Republicans were getting spooked by their challengers, but they swore they were in this and think it’s the right thing to do,” the aide said. “Two years is a long time in politics. They take the vote this summer and they don’t have to explain it for another two years. By then, the presidential ticket will have been put into action, the bill is a law, and the sky hasn’t fallen.”

But Holler of Heritage Action warned that an effort to dodge the primary calendar could backfire on Republicans. “Either way, it’s going to be bad policy and it’s going to be dumb politics when it comes to November,” he said.

“Certainly folks are going to feel, if they do this game on timing, people outside of Washington are smart enough to understand that. They will probably be more displeased if they see them trying to game the system.“

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“If Republicans wait until 2015 to tackle this issue, that puts a very emotional and controversial issue right in the middle of the Republican presidential selection process,” veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres, a supporter of reform, tells me. “The opportunity for demagoguery will be exceedingly prevalent if we wait that long.”

If one candidate does stake out a position as the anti-amnesty standard-bearer, it could complicate things for GOP candidates (Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie have all embraced reform to varying degrees) who actually want to support, and campaign on, some sort of immigration solution that deals with the 11 million.

“You could see a scenario where some of the candidates want to do something solutions-oriented on immigration, but then one candidate somehow wins Iowa on a “no amnesty’ pledge,” Patrick Hynes, a New Hampshire-based political strategist who was an adviser on both the McCain and Romney campaigns, tells me. “Then the other candidates would have to morph their positions to the right, thereby buttonholing themselves when the inevitable debate comes up again in the next primary states.”

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How an intra-party debate on immigration will impact the 2014 landscape is an open question. One House Republican familiar with the thinking of the candidates calls the legalization provisions contained in the principles released by House leadership “ludicrous and insulting” and tells me that, ahead of the 2014 midterms, the candidates themselves worry that “the whole effort will do nothing but provoke a scorched-earth, bloody civil war in the GOP, the only victor of which will be the Democratic party.” Another House Republican tells me, via text message, that the “general feeling” is that “getting into immigration will hurt Senate takeover chances.” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring, on the other hand, doesn’t see the issue having much of an impact. “Polling shows (immigration) is not an issue with huge resonance and each candidate will handle in the appropriate way for their constituents,” he says.

Leadership aides have suggested that House Speaker John Boehner won’t push legislation until after primary filing deadlines, but some say that raising the issue at all right now will make primary fights more contentious than they already are. “It’s not good in general to have an ongoing civil war in our party when you’re trying to unify the party, trying to get people to knock on doors and make phone calls,” says a GOP member…

“A lot of people speculate that this is John Boehner’s swan song,” says a GOP representative. If so, some of his party’s brightest stars will be looking to make their way to the Senate, and campaigning against their Speaker’s position as they do so.

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But this compromise won’t do what it’s supposed to do. It does nothing to address the reasonable concerns of those who opposed the immigration bill the Senate passed last June, and it does almost nothing to solve the party’s political problem with Hispanics…

If you oppose a path to citizenship … you’re not going to find much to like in a path to legalization. Some opponents say it’s wrong in principle to reward people for law-breaking by giving them the very thing they broke the law to get. And for these opponents, illegal immigrants shouldn’t get the chance to work in the U.S. legally when so many people in other countries who have applied in the proper way are still waiting…

Republicans shouldn’t overestimate how much goodwill this legislation would buy them among Hispanics, either. For one thing, if it passed, it would do so with the votes of many more Democrats than Republicans; Hispanics who pay attention to this issue would know that many Republicans — maybe most — opposed it. For another, Democrats would still be able to portray Republicans as anti-Hispanic. They would attack them for denying citizenship to the newly legalized population and, for that matter, to the new guest workers the legislation calls for…

A better idea would have four parts: We’d increase enforcement of immigration laws at the border and in the workplace. We’d put people who were brought here illegally while they were minors but have otherwise obeyed the law on a path to full citizenship. We’d signal that amnesty for other illegal immigrants might be possible in the future once we’re sure that enforcement is working. And we’d reform our legal immigration policies to let in more high-wage workers.

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What makes the politics even worse for Republicans is that the failures of Obama’s health care law presents them with an issue that, if played properly, could allow them to unify the party and attract independents – the same formula that helped win them the majority in 2010, the year Obamacare was passed. Democrats are desperate to get away from Obamacare as an issue, and now Republicans have given them a huge gift. Republicans were supposed to be focused like a laser beam on Obamacare this year, instead, they’re showing themselves to have the aim of an Imperial Stormtrooper…

Should Boehner defy the base of the party and go through with the immigration push, an analogy once offered by Milton Friedman comes to mind. In the analogy, Friedman compared policymakers attempting to adjust policy based on lagging economic indicators to “a fool in the shower” who finds the temperature too cold, and overcompensates in the other direction so the water becomes scolding hot.

This analogy can also be applied to the way that Boehner has vacillated between being overly indulgent and overly antagonistic toward House conservatives during his time as leader. Having been criticized as a sellout for striking a number of tax and budget deals with Democrats, Boehner allowed the Obamacare “defund” effort to play its course to completely predictable disastrous results. Once the damage was done due to his unwillingness to take a stand against this doomed-to-fail strategy, he decided to get tough on the Right and he lashed out at conservative groups who reasonably criticized a December budget deal as “ridiculous.”

Now, over the counsel of many conservatives, he’s decided to throw Obama and vulnerable Democrats a lifeline by changing the topic from health care to immigration.

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This is a sure loser for the GOP so long as we try to be the party that believes the nation should a) have some modicum of control over its borders and b) that the rule of law is important. The House GOP leadership jettisoned both of these requirements yesterday and adopted a plan that is virtually indistinguishable from the Senate Democrats plan.

All polls show that no one outside the Congressional big brain guys cares about this issue. Commonsense tells you that trying to develop a plan that will satisfy the lions share of the party base — which tends to view illegal aliens as, well, illegal aliens — and pander to enough Hispanics to move that electoral needle in a favorable direction probably doesn’t exist. All the “principles” announced by the House GOP leadership do is reprise the experience we had with every immigration bill since 1965: illegals are legalized (and become Democrats), because of the legalization more illegals are incentivized, and happy talk is given to border security which is promptly undermined by the US Chamber of Commerce, K Street lobbyists, and their bag men…

We are led by buffoons. We deserve to lose.

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Via the Daily Rushbo.