Boehner reassures GOP donors: I'm "hellbent" on passing immigration reform this year

A big gamble if true, but not a crazy one. He’s betting that nothing the GOP does, up to and including amnesty, will enrage grassroots conservatives so much that they’re likely to stay home in protest in November because of it. Anger at ObamaCare trumps all. When the dust settles, after a week or two of talk radio calling Boehner a traitor for passing an immigration bill and vowing to go third party, everyone will swallow hard and decide that they have no choice but to vote for the GOP anyway in the name of stopping O-Care. The redder the Senate turns next year, the greater the odds of repeal in 2017. Although if they’d sell you out on immigration, I’m not sure why you’d think they won’t sell you out on that too when the time comes.

As much as I suspect an immigration deal under these circumstances will inevitably be terrible, I also think Boehner’s bet is a shrewd one. In fact, I’ll place a bet of my own: If they pass something along the lines of the Gang of Eight bill and I end up writing a bunch of posts in October exhorting people to boycott the midterms because of it, some commenters will be calling me a traitor.

Speaker John Boehner and other senior House Republicans are telling donors and industry groups that they aim to pass immigration legislation this year, despite the reluctance of many Republicans to tackle the divisive issue before the November elections.

Many lawmakers and activists have assumed the issue was off the table in an election year. But Mr. Boehner said at a Las Vegas fundraiser last month he was “hellbent on getting this done this year,” according to two people in the room…

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) also is drafting legislation that would give qualifying undocumented immigrants legal status and the chance to apply for citizenship through existing channels. The bill includes border-security measures and an effort to clear the backlog of applications for permanent legal status, known as green cards.

House leaders have told Mr. Diaz-Balart to have the legislation ready to go for possible debate in June or July, an aide said.

The thinking here, per the Journal, is that trying to pass something on immigration next year will be even harder than it is this year so they’d better suck it up and do it now. If Republicans take back the Senate, Chuck Grassley ends up in charge of the Judiciary Committee — and he’s a much bigger obstacle to amnesty than Pat Leahy and Harry Reid are. In other words, the House GOP needs to make a deal with Senate Democrats now in the name of disempowering other Republicans. Which, actually, makes perfect sense if you believe (as I have all along) that GOP leaders are determined to pass something on immigration before the next presidential vote, to impress Latinos. It doesn’t have to be this year but it does have to be before November 2016, in which case all we’re really debating is timing. If they think there’s any chance that waiting until next year could mean not passing a bill at all before 2016, then yeah, they’ll move this year despite the risk of angering their base before the midterms. Ultimately it’s more important to appease pro-amnesty Latinos than anti-amnesty conservatives, for the simple reason that you’ll eventually come around and vote Republican again. Latinos might not.

One thing I don’t get, though: If Boehner — and Cantor — really are this serious about passing something soon, why would Obama make their job harder by further relaxing his policies on deportation? Even a modest tweak to the rules to appease amnesty fans on his left will give conservatives something new to point to as proof that Obama can’t be trusted to enforce the law and thus reform should be postponed until 2017. You would think that O, being sensitive to that, would back off from any new executive moves for now in order to give Boehner as much political space as possible. Maybe the White House believes that it’s because Obama’s been rattling his saber on deportations that Boehner’s rushing to beat him to the punch with a new bill, but that’s goofy. No one, including immigration paranoiacs like me and Mickey Kaus, think O’s about to make things even harder for Democrats in the midterms by announcing a broad executive amnesty. If he does anything, it’ll be a small change designed purely to pander to liberals. Boehner doesn’t need to leap because of that.

Just to refresh your memory, here’s the man himself back in February warning that there can’t be a deal on reform if the GOP can’t trust O on border security. Two months later, Obama’s talking about making enforcement weaker — and yet Boehner’s reportedly more determined than ever to pass something. It’s almost as if this was a giant lie designed to falsely reassure conservatives while a deal was quietly being worked out. I wonder what that deal will look like.