Boehner's election-year immigration strategy: A trial balloon on amnesty

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and immigration-law expert Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, are writing the principles with Boehner.

They intend to start vetting them with House Republicans, likely next week after GOP leaders hold a meeting to prep for their conference’s Jan. 29 retreat. By the time the principles go public (or are leaked), leadership hopes to have more than half of the conference on board.

Then, according to aides, the plan is to gauge public reaction. If House members are deluged with nothing but hate mail from their districts, Republicans might decide to do nothing but emphasize border security, perhaps even voting on the border bill produced last year. That’s at least until 2014 primary-election filings are over. (The biggest threat to Republicans on immigration is in the primaries anyway, strategists say. No one will lose in the general election because they are too soft on immigration.)

But if leadership’s principles receive some positive feedback, Goodlatte, Cantor, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., could advance legislation they have discussed for the last several months. As yet, there is no legislative language drafted, however. Cantor and Goodlatte have talked about a path to citizenship for undocumented “dreamers” who came to this country as kids. Even Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., is discussing some sort of “Dream Act.” Issa is mulling broader legalization for other unauthorized immigrants. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., is trying to gather support for a legalization plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to get green cards through normal channels, such as children or spouses.