Here we go: House GOP to release "principles" on immigration reform by the end of January

This isn’t S.O.P. before major legislative initiatives, is it? Typically the party just puts together a bill and unveils that. There may be a “white paper” circulated among the caucus but it’s not carefully leaked to generate a buzzy story in the New York Times.

The point of this, I assume, is to signal to centrists, business groups, and Latino voters that they really are going to pass something this year — just not yet. It probably won’t include a path to citizenship as that’d be too politically toxic to conservatives, and it won’t be passed soon lest a big amnesty push early in the year trigger a wave of tea-party primary challenges. But they’re going to pass something, once the primary deadline passes. This is Boehner’s way of buying a little more patience from his allies until then.

House Speaker John A. Boehner and his Republican leadership team are preparing to release their principles for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws later this month, the speaker told his members at a closed-door conference on Wednesday.

Though the “standards or principles document,” as Mr. Boehner of Ohio referred to the white paper in the meeting, has long been in the works, its imminent release reflects a broader push within the Republican conference to put forth its own proposals as a counterpoint to legislation in the Democratic-controlled Senate…

The goal of the principles is to gauge the Republican conference’s willingness to tackle immigration this year, as well as to receive feedback from lawmakers before embarking on a legislative strategy.

You can guess what the principles will be: Piecemeal reform instead of comprehensive; a heavy rhetorical emphasis on border security, whatever that means in practice; no newly-created special path to citizenship (but conspicuous silence about letting legalized illegals apply for citizenship through existing channels down the road); and then something delicately phrased about bringing people out of the shadows and attracting highly educated talent abroad. Message: “We won’t sell you out, conservatives!” Which raises the question — why wait to introduce a bill, then? Do it now and let the primary chips fall as they may.

A group of conservatives in the House are launching a preemptive strike, with clever timing:

The letter, which makes no mention of the must publicized aspect of comprehensive reform (a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants), strikes a populist tone in light of the president’s focus on income inequality. It questions the wisdom of White House-backed reforms that would dramatically increase the number of low-skilled legal immigrants admitted to the country over the next decade, and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, decrease the average wages of American workers.

The Senate immigration bill, which the White House supports, would “permanently displace American workers” at a time when millions are already out of work, the lawmakers write, while enriching the large corporations who are eager to get their hands on cheap labor.

“The White House has entertained a parade of high-powered business executives to discuss immigration policy, all while shutting out the concerns of everyday wage-earners who overwhelmingly oppose these measures,” they write. “So-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform may be a good deal for big businesses who want to reduce labor costs, and it may be a good deal for progressive labor unions seeking new workers from abroad, but it’s an awful deal for US workers – including African-American and Hispanic communities enduring chronically high unemployment.”

The party’s big fear is that Democrats will succeed, with media help, in moving the conversation this year away from ObamaCare and towards “income inequality” issues like unemployment benefits, the minimum wage, and poverty. This week’s anti-poverty rhetoric from high-profile Republicans like Rubio and Paul Ryan is designed to counter that, of course. I can only assume that House conservatives, while ostensibly aiming their letter at the White House, are essentially warning Boehner that they’re prepared to make trouble on this point if it’s full speed ahead on amnesty. In theory that critique, of immigration reform as a blow to the working class, would hurt both parties since support for reform is bipartisan, but Democrats have more capital to spend on working-class issues because of their support for the welfare state. Having Republicans in the House attacking their own party for selling out workers would, shall we say, complicate the GOP’s message before the midterms. Does Boehner dare risk it? Yeah, probably. Skip to 4:20 below and watch the head of the Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the electoral effort against Boehner’s enemies in the tea party this year, predict that we’re going to get a bill. A choice quote from his most recent speech: “We’re determined to make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted. The chamber will pull out all the stops—through grassroots lobbying, communications, politics and partnerships with our friends in the union, and faith-based organizations, and law enforcement groups, and others to get this job done.”

And before you start celebrating the fact that Republicans will almost certainly rule out a path to citizenship in their nascent bill, read Mark Krikorian. You should know better by now than to believe that citizenship won’t assuredly follow once legalization is secured.