The question mark’s in the headline because there are two credible reports that conflict. (Or do they?) The word from Jonathan Strong on Tuesday was that Boehner still wants to press ahead despite the flak he’s taking from righties. One “well-connected” source told him he wouldn’t be surprised if a bill hits the floor this spring, no doubt after most of the deadlines to file primary challenges have passed. Even pro-amnesty activists like Frank Sharry say they’re struck by how little public opposition there’s been to Boehner’s push from House Republicans. The grassroots are angry, talk radio’s angry, but the caucus itself is largely silent. Hmmmm.
Now here comes the Journal claiming that a sellout is not, in fact, in the works. Not because House Republicans are adamantly opposed to the Boehner/Ryan immigration principles but because they’re deathly afraid to tackle this subject nine months before an election that’s looking rosy for them. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? And if it is broke but you can better afford to fix it next year, why not do it then?
A block of House Republicans opposes the immigration overhaul on policy grounds, but GOP officials say a far larger group is worried about the wisdom of putting forth such a divisive proposal during an election year when the GOP is unified on issues such as health care and the economy. They say Republicans should wait until 2015, when the party might have control of the Senate and more leverage…
By all accounts, Mr. Boehner wants to push forward on immigration legislation, knowing he will need a combination of Republican and Democratic votes to do so. Democrats are cautiously optimistic about the approach Republicans have laid out, but it is unclear whether Mr. Boehner can rally sufficient support inside his own conference…
A Republican lobbyist who is pushing for the overhaul said he was surprised by the nature of the opposition. “We’re not in a fight about the substance but we’re losing the ‘Why now?’ argument far more than I thought we would be,” he said. He dismissed those who say the party should wait until next year: “The idea that it is going to be easier as we roll into a presidential election cycle is just preposterous.”
So the two reports don’t actually conflict. Boehner wants to do this but some sizable chunk of the caucus — a majority? a sizable minority? — prefers to wait. Here’s the question: If he could get more of a Republican buy-in next year, why shouldn’t he wait? Matt Lewis argued the other day that amnesty opponents will always gin up some sort of excuse related to the timing to keep kicking the immigration-reform can down the road, but I simply can’t believe party leaders and their business backers will send the GOP nominee into battle in 2016 without arming him with some sort of amnesty to show Latino voters. It might be a limited one like DREAM, but something’s going to happen. Even Raul Labrador, who said this week that pushing immigration now could cost Boehner his gavel, says immigration is “one of the first things we should do” in 2015 once it controls the Senate again. More:
Among House Republicans, Labrador said, there was “overwhelming support for the idea of doing nothing this year” on immigration, even among those who may agree with the principles outlined by House leadership at last week’s retreat in Cambridge, Md. “I’ve seen some reports in the media that say the majority of [Republicans] were okay with the immigration principles,” he said. “That’s not true. The majority of people didn’t even express their opinion about the principles, they expressed their opinion about the timing of putting these principles forward.”
If that’s true and Boehner’s intent on pressing ahead anyway, what does it mean? One of two things, I think. Could be that he’s deeply worried about House Democrats using another delay on immigration by Republicans as a bludgeon before the midterms, either to goose Latino turnout or to swing purple districts. (House Dems have been quiet about Boehner’s immigration principles lately in order to give him room to win some GOP votes, but naturally that’ll change if/when reform is postponed.) I doubt it, though. No one but no one expects any significant Democratic gains in the House, barring some miraculous economic upswing this summer. Even if immigration demagoguery turns out a few more Latino voters, ObamaCare problems will keep conservatives more motivated than liberals. The other possibility is that Boehner’s eyeing retirement and wants to get reform done either to burnish his legacy (in lieu of the “grand bargain” on deficit reduction he’s always wanted but could never work out with Obama) or because he fears that the next Speaker will be more conservative than him and might not follow through next year on reform. That’s a small risk given that Cantor’s next in line and Cantor’s the one who’s writing the GOP’s version of DREAM, but as Lewis says, the risk isn’t zero. If Boehner’s headed off into the sunset, he might decide it’s worth bringing this to the floor and passing it with, say, 170 Democratic votes and 50 Republican ones. Then he’ll cross his fingers that conservative anger at ObamaCare will trump conservative anger at him in November, with a retirement announcement to come sometime during the lame-duck session.
Exit question: If Boehner does decide to wait until next year, how many Democratic votes for immigration reform will there be come 2015? If the GOP wins big this fall, some Dems will be replaced by Republicans, whose votes are marginally harder to win on this issue. There may also be some Democrats who, despite being reelected, decide to oppose whatever immigration plan the GOP cooks up next year, partly because it’s “too harsh” and partly because at that point it might be more valuable to them to have Republicans fail on immigration again than to pass a bill that gives amnesty fans most of what they want. Maybe that’s another reason Boehner’s thinking of doing it now, despite his own caucus’s worries. One way or another, he’s going to need lots of Democratic votes to make this happen. Those are easier to get today than they will be next year.
Update: Well, well.
BREAKING!! Fox's @MikeEmanuelFOX says he's got hot tip – SpkrBoehner will "likely" PULL immigration reform from House agenda this year
— Shannon Bream (@ShannonBream) February 6, 2014
Update: Here’s the key line from this morning’s statement. Sounds like this is done until Obama proves somehow that he can be trusted, whatever that might mean.
Boehner says GOP doesn't trust Obama on immigration: "It's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."
— Jordan Fabian (@Jordanfabian) February 6, 2014
Update: Jonathan Strong says opponents are playing hardball.
In the hours before Boehner made his surprise announcement, lawmakers and aides had told Breitbart News that early discussions had begun about whether to force a special leadership election in the event Boehner moved forward with immigration legislation.
“It’s going to require blood if this happens,” one GOP member said.