Breitbart dropped the A-bomb on him this morning, headlining a post about Paul’s tete-a-tete with Grover Norquist yesterday on immigration, “Rand Paul: Let’s Compromise On Amnesty.” Naturally Paul started getting hammered for it online, drawing this retort:
I will not let sloppy journalists characterize my position as “amnesty.” It is simply untrue. http://t.co/ToWmioTg0W
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) June 12, 2014
His staff, sensing peril in letting that accusation go unchallenged, slapped together an op-ed stating his position and handed it over to Breitbart. (Which, let’s just acknowledge, was a Jedi-caliber bit of content generation by the BB guys.) Is it true or false that Rand’s for amnesty? Here’s what he says:
I am for immigration reform because what we have now is untenable. I voted against the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill because it did not secure the border first. I will only support reform that has border security first as verifiable and ascertained by Congress, not the president.
My plan will not give the president the authority to simply declare that the border is secure. It will require yearly votes of Congress to ensure the president doesn’t get around the law…
Immigrants are drawn to the magnet of free market capitalism here in the United States. Our nation should have open arms to immigrants who want to come her and work hard to make a new life in a free nation. As a libertarian-minded senator, I am attracted to the idea of somebody coming to this country with a couple dollars in his pocket, and then through hard work, make the American Dream a reality.
I do not support amnesty, which is why I don’t support our current system with no border security and a blind eye to the problem.
Three things. One: Unless I’m missing something, his position on immigration hasn’t changed. He’s always supported reform of some kind; what he didn’t support was the Gang of Eight bill, ostensibly because he didn’t like the “special” path to citizenship it created but in reality because he knew that Rubio was going to get nuked for it on the right and decided he’d better stay far away. He’s never going to back away from reform entirely, though, and neither will any other 2016 hopeful. They’re too afraid of being buried under the Latino vote in the general election (even though they will be anyway). Realistically, Paul’s position here — no special path to citizenship and no legalization until the border is verifiably secure — is as far right as any Republican candidate will go in the primaries.
Two: How do you define “amnesty”? As letting illegals apply for citizenship? Letting them apply for legalization? When I use the term, I’m thinking of any bill that would permit legalization before the border has been measurably improved. Paul’s worried about the same thing, which is why he says no fewer than three times in this short op-ed that he’d require a vote of Congress affirming those improvements before any legalization could take place. If you’re holding out for something more stringent than that — no legalization under any circumstances, attrition through enforcement for the indefinite future — that’s great but you’re kidding yourself. Remember, even Ted Cruz, while opposing a path to citizenship, supported the legalization component in the Gang of Eight bill. Congressional Republicans will never again take a “no legalization, period” position after Obama’s landslide among Latinos in 2012. It is what it is. Rand’s plan is as conservative a bill as any prospective nominee will feel safe in supporting.
Three: Rand’s plan doesn’t have the tiniest chance of becoming law and he knows it. He’s putting this out there not as a serious proposal but to pander to conservatives who are skeptical of him. Apart from a few dozen righties in the House, there’s no constituency in Congress that wants to suspend legalization for illegals until the border is secure. Democrats don’t want to because they want the border open for future Democratic voters; Republicans don’t want to because they want the border open for cheap labor for the donor class and the Chamber of Commerce. The only reason border security is part of comprehensive reform in the first place is because it gives Republicans a way to sell the bill to the right. And even if Rand’s bill somehow ended up passing, the GOP would end up caving and gutting it within a few years. Imagine if they passed his plan and Congress was asked to vote in 2016 on whether new improvements to security have made the border sufficiently strong that we can now begin legalizing illegals who are here. How would that vote go in a presidential election year, with the GOP quavering at what might happen among Latino voters if they vote no?
I’m not knocking Paul for this, to be clear. His proposal, while laughably DOA, is a smart way to try to appease conservatives, libertarians, and Latinos simultaneously, emphasizing security while seeming to stand up to the right in insisting on reform that involves legalization. Is it too much to ask, though, that Republicans like him emphasize now and then that the only reason America’s stuck at this endless impasse on comprehensive reform is because Democrats won’t accept border security on its own terms? A Republican Congress, squishy as it would be, would pass a security-only bill overwhelmingly knowing how their base would react if they didn’t. It’s Democrats who can’t stand the idea of improving the border for its own sake, but rather as a regrettable concession to be made in an amnesty deal. Might want to mention that from time to time, senator, to remind voters who the “unreasonable” party in Congress really is.