Immigration: Getting Inside the House's Head

Most of what you hear about the fate of immigration reform in the House misses the point. Passage in 2013 will not be determined by the merits of secure borders, Obamacare for illegals, or even the economic cost or benefit. It is not even about the 73 % of Latinos who voted for Obama in 2012.  The questions are more personal than that:

1. “In my district in 2014 do I have to worry more about my Democratic opponent getting above, say, 75% of the Latino vote or the threat of a primary challenger from the Right?”  Stu Rothenberg’s analysis would say that only a few of the 234 House Republicans are in any danger and Latinos constitute at least a fifth of the voters in only 37 Republican districts. No urgency there.

2. “Over the course of my career in the House how much would I be hurt by my portion of millions of new voters who, being less assimilated, would be even more likely to vote against me?”   The corrolary – “If we give them green cards to mute most of the complaints, how long would the ‘path to citizenship’ (e.g. voting) need to be to get beyond my time horizon?” The offer in the Senate bill was 13 years.

In sum: there is no need now; we need to put off voting for at least a decade;  why give Obama and Chuck Shumer/Harry Reid a victory; and what’s in it for me anyway?

That’s the 2013-14 equation when the House Republicans can write off the Blue states and the heavily Democratic minority-populated cities, but what works for the House doesn’t work for the presidency in 2016 and could decide a Senate seat or two.

This leaves a fairly clear challenge for John Boehner (who has previously demonstrated a broader view in budget negotiations), with a fairly obvious set of steps to take:

1. To remain Speaker don’t bring forward legislation which will threaten the re-election of Republican members. There is principle … then there is survival. He could cross his members on a budget “Grand Bargain” in 2011 and retain his speakership, but something that would put his members personally at risk is a different matter. Thus, the Hastert Rule – no bill will be brought to a vote which is not supported by a majority of Republican members (118 today).

2. Look to the 2014 House elections.  Things look good; don’t let immigration screw it up. Nothing that looks like amnesty; nothing that doesn’t first secure the borders; nothing that would bring primary challenges. Passing a bill acceptable to House Republicans would be a good – but not necessary – idea.

3.  Jump ahead mentally to a Conference Committee to resolve differences between the Senate Bill and anything that comes from the House. Appoint reliable stalwarts who would not agree to anything that would not pass the House with the 118 Republican votes. Remember simple basics – real border enforcement; no jumping the line; no voting for a decade.

4. Take your time. House district lines are set until the 2020 census. No need to let Obama or Shumer get any credit. Realize that Obama will only enforce the parts that he likes – witness his unilateral delay of parts of Obamacare despite language in the bill specifying a begin date of January 1, 2014.  Use the Democratic trick – pass it in time to get the subject off of the table for the 2016 presidential election, to be implemented after Obama is gone.


With the number of Americans receiving food assistance now passing the number of full time private sector workers, this week’s video is a flashback to a Newt Gingrich/Nancy Pelosi discussion of 2010.


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