Eric Cantor: Obama and I totally had an angry conversation about immigration yesterday

It’s pitiful that we’ve reached this point, but Obama’s account of this chat really is more credible than Cantor’s. O’s position on immigration is straightforward: He wants amnesty badly, partly for legacy reasons and partly because he’s understandably keen to legalize a few million future Democratic voters, and he’s hoping the GOP will go along so that he doesn’t have to do something risky like an executive moratorium on deportations. The GOP leadership’s position is anything but straightforward. They’re convinced that they need to pass some sort of immigration bill before 2016 or else Latinos will hand the White House to Democrats, but they’re not sure how far they can go without enraging their own base. Cantor wants you to believe this phone call was contentious because he’s eager to reassure conservatives that he’s holding the line on amnesty, especially conservatives who are less inclined to make him the next Speaker than they used to be. Obama, though, really has no reason to lie in describing it as pleasant. If anything, he’s forfeiting a little juice from his own base by not claiming that it was as contentious as Cantor says.

Long story short: Barack Obama may be the more honest broker in the great Democratic/Republican immigration tango.

One year after the Senate introduced its comprehensive immigration bill, which passed the upper chamber but has not been taken up by the GOP-led House, Obama issued a written statement criticizing Republican leaders for failing to take up the legislation. “We have a chance to strengthen our country while upholding our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and I urge House Republicans to listen to the will of the American people and bring immigration reform to the House floor for a vote,” he said…

“The President called me hours after he issued a partisan statement which attacked me and my fellow House Republicans and which indicated no sincere desire to work together,” Cantor said in a statement. “After five years, President Obama still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress to get things done. You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue.”…

However, a White House official described the call as “pleasant” and said they were surprised by how Cantor’s staff had characterized the exchange. The call was imitated [sic] so that the president could wish the House Majority Leader a happy Passover, according to the official.

But Cantor’s version of the conversation did not mention any well wishes.

One of Cantor’s aides acknowledged later that there were indeed some well wishes at the end. Supposedly, he stressed to O that the House won’t take up the Gang of Eight Senate bill under any circumstances. That’s true — and it’s been true for months. Boehner has reiterated it many times. Whatever ends up happening in the House, they’re not going to wade into the same quicksand that sunk Rubio. What they might do is propose a very modest amnesty bill, targeting a class of illegals who are extremely sympathetic — like, say, legalization for DREAMers who have served time in the military. That bill will pass the House with lots of support, and then — well, let Mickey Kaus explain:

Don’t be fooled by press accounts that downplay the significance of Rep. Jeff Denham’s attempt to add something called the ENLIST Act to the defense authorization (NDAA) bill. It’s a significant push for a substantial immigration amnesty, and it has a good chance of succeeding…

Denham’s amendment isn’t about helping a few patriotic DREAMers. It’s about getting an immigration bill–any immigration bill–to the Senate where Democrats led by Senators Reid and Schumer can expand it by adding as much of the massive Gang of 8 amnesty as possible, and then going to “conference” with the House on must-pass piece of legislation. It is, to use the technical term, a Trojan Horse.

In other word, ENLIST would be a way to get to conference with the Senate on the basics of the Gang of Eight bill without adopting that now politically radioactive bill itself. And once it came back from conference, with a much broader amnesty tacked onto it as an amendment, it’d be hard even for immigration fencesitters in the GOP to vote no on it. After all, the core part of the bill would still be about legalizing military DREAMers; no one wants to vote against veterans, especially in an election year. And who is it, incidentally, who’s helping Denham to move his ENLIST bill through? According to Buck McKeon, it’s … Eric Cantor, who “pledged” his assistance to Denham last year. I wonder if ENLIST came up yesterday in Obama’s and Cantor’s very angry, ideologically charged immigration scuffle.

ENLIST is actually a perfect example of where the real fault lies in the great immigration-reform stalemate. It’s a bill that should pass and would pass if Democrats were willing to accept anything less than a mass amnesty without serious preconditions. If they were willing to make a deal just on military DREAMers, it could happen. It they were willing to accept serious improvements in security as a prerequisite to legalizing illegals who are already here, that would also happen. (Some Dems insist Republicans can’t be trusted to follow through on the second part of that even as they also assure you, rightly, that the GOP will inevitably cave on legalization purely due to demographic pressure.) Unless and until Obama/Reid/Schumer give up on a broader amnesty for now, Republican fears of being sold out on any bipartisan deal, even one that seems superficially small, will linger.