Skip to 2:45 for the immigration bit. According to Jonathan Strong, among the many Republicans who spoke at the caucus meeting last week on immigration, sentiment ran 80/20 against bringing a bill to the floor this year. Can this amnesty be saved?
It’s a testament to how little border hawks trust the GOP leadership on this subject that even cautious pessimism of the sort expressed here by Ryan is cause for deep analysis of hidden motives. Byron York wonders: Is this a head fake, designed to get conservatives to let down their guard?
“The best way to pass a bill is to tell people a bill is unlikely to pass,” says one Hill aide closely involved in the issue. “What if Ryan had gone on TV and said, ‘Read my lips, we’re going to pass a bill’?” Can you imagine how much more difficult it would be is for Republicans when they go home to town halls?”
The aide recalls how Senate GOP Gang of Eight leader Marco Rubio often stressed the downside of his bill’s chances. Recalling a closed-door meeting in which Rubio discussed the bill with skeptical colleagues, the aide remembers, “Rubio said, Look, there’s no way the bill will pass as it is right now. The Democrats are going to lose about five of their own, and it just won’t pass. Rubio would go on Hannity and say the same thing — Oh, we’ve got so much work to do, we don’t have the votes.”
One result of that kind of talk was that conservatives who opposed reform didn’t see an active threat until the Gang of Eight bill was on the verge of passage. “The phone lines in Congress didn’t melt down until after Corker-Hoeven [the amendment that assured enough Republican support for passage], and everybody realized the countdown had begun,” the aide says.
If conservatives got caught napping on the Gang of Eight bill, it’s partly because they thought they could afford to. There’s only so much one can do to stop a bill from getting 60 votes when there are 55 Democrats, a few committed Republican immigration sellouts like McCain and Graham, and a younger GOP guard like Rubio who are using the issue for their own electoral ambitions. The House was always going to be where the big fight happened, partly because it’s the last line of defense, partly because there’s a bigger constituency of conservatives in the caucus willing to hold strong, and partly because grassroots righties can exert more electoral pressure on the squishes who are wavering. If anything, the fact that Boehner and Ryan told the base to kiss off over the budget deal in December has only pushed border hawks to a higher state of alarm. Nothing’s going to lull them to sleep now; York’s piece, scrutinizing Ryan’s mild expression of doubt, is a nice example why. That’s not to say that Boehner won’t tell the base to kiss off again and pass this thing over conservatives’ howling objections, just that there will be howling, no matter what he and Ryan say.
Speaking of unhelpful rhetoric, though, what are we to make of this?
In keeping with his State of the Union pledge to bypass Congress when necessary, Obama hinted Friday that immigration might be a candidate for executive action…
“Obviously, if at some point we see that it’s not getting done, I’m going to look at options to make sure that we have a rational, smart system of immigration,” he said. “But I’m going to do everything I can in these coming months to see if we can get this over the finish line.”
Fear of Obama using executive action, or rather inaction, in refusing to enforce new border security measures passed by the House is the excuse du jour among Republicans for why the House might not end up passing anything. Watch Ryan here and you’ll see him repeat the point: How can the GOP come together and reform immigration when it has no faith that its reforms will be carried out? The thing is, though, if you’ve concluded as a caucus that Obama’s gone rogue and can’t be trusted to dutifully carry out federal law, the answer isn’t to boycott immigration reform, it’s to boycott new legislation of all kinds. If, in theory, 15 Senate Democrats flipped on ObamaCare and agreed to some sweeping GOP plan to scale back the law, why bother passing that if you don’t trust O to carry it out? Blaming Obama’s executive power grabs is a convenient way for Boehner, Ryan, Rubio et al. to dodge the real problem within the caucus, which is that conservatives don’t trust their own leadership to demand real, measurable border security improvements as an absolute prerequisite to legalizing illegals.
And yet, per the last excerpt, here’s O now rattling his saber by suggesting he might do something on legalization himself if the House effort falls apart. His thinking, I guess, is that Republicans will be frightened by the idea of him taking all the political credit for legalization and therefore they’ll act to preempt him, but it may backfire by convincing conservatives that Boehner and Ryan are right — Obama really can’t be trusted in this area, in which case why are House Republicans bothering with new legislation at all? Maybe O’s finally decided that he’d prefer to have the House bill fail so that he can legalize illegals by executive order, and yet he feels obliged to wait until the House effort collapses so that he can claim he was “patient” and acted only when Congress proved that it was incapable of doing so. Could he sell that line to the American public? Maybe, yeah.