Monday, July 15, 2013

The Next Step on Immigration (Fun Times in the House)

Good reporting today from NR's Jonathan Strong highlights the weird dynamic on the next step for immigration reform.

Here's the deal. Most Republicans, at the very least, want to pass something -- so that they can deflect at least some of the blame for comprehensive reform failing, and at least to some extent because they really do support some legislation. But they can't pass a comprehensive bill (at least not without relying on mostly Democratic votes), or even a mostly comprehensive bill. So the plan has been to pass a series of small bills that have wider support.

The problem? They may not have the votes for those, either.

There are two things going on here. One is that the tactical play for Democrats is to oppose each of the individual small bills unless they get some assurance that Republicans will eventually allow a vote on the part of reform that Democrats care about -- the path to citizenship. The question is whether moderate Democrats will hang tight, even on small bills, such as "border security" provisions, which they actually support (or at least want to be on record as supporting).

And then on the Republican side, there's a group which just likes voting against everything, even if they support the substance. On immigration, the excuse for voting no is that Boehner could use any successful bill as a mechanism for getting to conference, and then return to the House with something like the Senate bill, which would then pass the House with mostly Democratic votes. Now, this is basically nonsense. Not that Boehner might choose to pass a bill with mostly Democratic votes; that's a real threat, or at least a real potential threat. But if the Speaker wants to do that, there's nothing to prevent him from simply bringing up the Senate bill right now. Doesn't matter; the "no" caucus just likes opposing everything.

Now, in a normal legislature with a normal majority party, the "no" caucus could be marginalized...well, they would be marginalizing themselves. If Boehner can't pass something with 218 Republicans because the loony right won't help him, he would move a bit to the center to pick up moderate Democrats.

However, that doesn't work in the House we have. Partially because those moderate Democrats don't want to play along (especially since they'll be supporting any bills which are actually intended to become law, since those bill must get Barack Obama's signature and therefore can't be GOP-only). But mostly because many mainstream House Republicans are terrified of being called RINOs and sellouts, and therefore are terrified of separation between themselves and the crazy caucus.

At any rate: border security, at least, will pass the House if either moderate Democrats or the fringiest of conservative Republicans, all of whom support it, actually vote for it. My guess all along is that they probably won't.


  1. So what do you think is going to happen with these partials bills, i.e. the farm bill without SNAP, or an immigration bill without citizenship? The Republicans are perfectly willing to vote them along. What determines whether they get to conference? And how does conference work if the Senate bill includes substantial language lacking from the House version?

    1. It doesn't have to be in both bills if the conference members agree to it going into the conference report.

      When the Republicans last ran Congress, they used to meet without the Democrats and add things that hadn't been in either bill.

    2. Though, said conference report must pass both chambers, thereby making the language appear in both bills.

      Polsby's transformative legislature is quickly on the road to being an arena legislature.

  2. Yes, and they may even read them firs.

  3. Presumably, the White House has specific requirements that must be in the bills before they're signed.

    Does anyone know if the President signed the legislation gutting the regulation blocking Congressional staffers from making a killing with inside information on the stock market?

  4. I don't think what is happening with the House GOP on immigration is weird. What is weird is that people lash out at them for being stupid, racist, incompetent etc for not passing a bill this year but said nothing when no attempt at passing an immigration bill was made three years ago. I heard none of these accusations leveled at the Dems when they controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency and could easily have passed an immigration bill if they wanted.

    1. Well, the Left was trying to stave off a potential electoral defeat, which came anyway in 2010, and scared them into putting off matters until after 2012. Today, they just want the issue. Smart politics, if unprincipled.

      I suspect that they outsmarted themselves, however. That Senate amnesty vote may be the straw that breaks the camel's back in Senate elections in AR, AK, LA, NC and perhaps elsewhere.

    2. From what I remember, Obamacare took 10 or 11 months, and Dodd-Frank took 7 or 8 months, and the Dems spent a long time on a climate change bill that Lindsay Graham torpedoed after months of working on it. And then, of course, it was election time and a bad economy + the GOP advantage in midterm elections gave the GOP the House.

      Where are you getting your data about AR, AK, LA and NC and "elsewhere" swinging due to the immigration vote? I haven't heard anyone make such a suggestion... in fact, from what I've read, more GOP analysts are worried about the opposite. That pro-immigration wave might imperil several seats House seat that should be safe GOP. I don't imagine it will be too difficult for Dems to defend the immigration reform vote, as a majority of voters support the bill.

      I wonder how the GOP is going to defend its position on immigration? Or its position on gun control? Or the debt ceiling antics? How will they explain the push to dismantle Medicare and Social Security?

      Should be a fun election year!


    3. @Mercer

      Come on, this is silly. Between the financial collapse, the disputed MN Senate race, the ill health and deaths of Kennedy/Byrd, uncooperative Blue Dogs, and frankly the drawn-out battle over the PPACA, there was little-to-no window to pass an immigration bill. I cant remember the exact amount, but Reid had very little legislative calendar days on which he could actually break a filibuster, and let's keep in mind the GOP decided to filibuster everything. To argue not just that an immigration bill could have been done, but that it could have been done easily, is mistaken.

      I suppose you could argue that some small part of the lashing out could be directed at a handful of vulnerable Blue Dogs who would have resisted immigration reform in 2009-2010, but really Im not sure the lashing should be directed at pols in any instance, since they are generally just doing what they think best reflects the preferences of their constituents. So the real blame for no immigration bill in 2009 belongs with those conservative constituents in GOP-controlled districts, along with, to a much lesser extent, the conservative constituents in Blue Dog districts (many of which are basically GOP districts kept warm by Dems for 2 or 4 years).

      There was no Democratic Party conspiracy to slowroll immigration reform.

  5. " little-to-no window to pass an immigration bill. "

    There was time to pass a cap and trade bill that was doomed in the Senate.

    I remember reading that Rahm did not want to deal with immigration because he feared it would be unpopular with many voters. I am not criticizing him. I am criticizing amnesty advocates who talk now as if amnesty is a moral imperative and great politics who were quiet when they had a better chance to actually pass a bill. They are either hypocritical or stupid.

    1. I don't think it's at all true that 2009 offered a better chance to make CIR law than 2013. At best they might have been able to accomplish something like what you mentioned on climate change, a symbolic vote in the House that was basically an unnecessary tough vote for moderate Dems.

      I suppose there's even an argument that punting on immigration in 2009 was part of a strategic long game to improve the odds of passing it in the future - hard to say if it was an effective one, as obviously here we are now with the Senate bill DOA.

      I mean you're sort of right that CIR advocates weren't nearly as vocal or insistent in 2009, but I dont think that reflects anything other than this stuff gets more attention when legislation that has a realistic chance of being passed is considered.

      I mean if 20 years from now the End The Death Penalty in Every State Act comes up for a vote in the Senate, and a bunch of anti-death penalty advocates make the moral case for passing it, are you going to say it's hypocritical that they weren't harassing Reid to bring this legislation to the floor in 2013?

    2. I don't think it is at all clear that an immigration bill would have gotten through the Senate in 2009, even in the very brief period in which the Democrats had 60 votes.

      At that time the failure of Bush's push for immigration reform was still very fresh, particularly in the minds of Republicans. Meanwhile, there had not yet been the sort of Presidential election that when it later happened in 2012 convinced a lot of wavering Republican politicos that moving immigration reform was a political imperative. Obama had not yet established a record of very tough enforcement. And the Senate Democrats, while somewhat more numerous, were also considerably more conservative/Republican-deferential at the margins.

      All that sets up a scenario in which it is perfectly plausible that largely unified Republican opposition would induce a few red-state Democratic Senators to kill immigration reform in the Senate. Of course conditions have gotten worse in the House, but it is not at all obvious this is a worse time to try overall.

      And even if it doesn't go through now, that just means it may well be the case that at no point during the Obama Administration will there have been the right combination of conditions to pass a decent bill (unless perhaps the Democrats do much better in 2014 than currently expected).

  6. "That Senate amnesty vote may be the straw that breaks the camel's back in Senate elections in AR, AK, LA, NC and perhaps elsewhere."

    NC has a non-negligible Hispanic vote that probably carried the state for Obama in 2008 and kept it much closer than Republicans had expected in 2012.

    However, even if immigration hurts Democrats in the Senate races in 2014, whether Mitch McConnell gets a 51-49 majority in 2014 (which he will probably lose in 2016, anyway) is infinitely less important than whether the Democrats can win Florida's 32 electoral votes in 2016. If they do, it is hard to see Republicans winning even if the GOP carries Ohio. And the GOP stance on immigration hurts the party in Florida in two ways: (1) most obviously, it hurts the party with the Hispanic vote there (the days when most Florida Hispanics were Cuban-Americans who still resented Democrats over the Bay of Pigs are over), and (2) it makes it less likely that the GOP will nominate a Floridian--both Rubio and Jeb Bush have lost favor with the national GOP over their positions on immigration.

    1. Yes, it could tip things a bit in FL, but the no-amnesty push will likely help an R presidential candidate in OH, MI, MN, WI, IN, IA, MO and even PA.

      I'm not certain the FL case is as you make it out, either. But in any event, it's the Midwest states that are in play now. That's what will decide presidential elections in the near term, as it did in 2012, when the Midwest rejected Willard.

      A Bush is not going to be elected president, so that name doesn't matter. Rubio might, but I doubt it, as he's basically unaccomplished. It would be like nominating another Obama, and I can't see that happening for another generation now. Look for solid experience amongst presidential candidates, for a while now.

  7. MI, MN, WI, and PA have gone Democratic six presidential elections in a row. If the presidential election is even close, the GOP has no chance of carrying them--and the Democrats have no hope of carrying IN and MO. Even if immigration is a net vote-loser for the Democrats in OH, that is offset by its effect in CO, FL, and NV. (Not to mention NM which went Republican in a presidential election as late as 2004, but which Republicans virtually wrote off in 2012.) Also, I think on balance it helps the Democrats in VA (where the Hispanic and Asian population has been growing rapidly).

    1. Yes, they are close, but things never remain politically static, as we know. I shouldn't need to explain to you what's occurring in MI and WI recently, and even in PA to some extent. MN has a populist streak and history that perhaps puts it into question as well.

      And I agree with you that FL, CO, NM and NV are potential Left strengthenings, but that doesn''t come without cost elsewhere, and the Midwest is likely that elsewhere. That is the new battleground. That is where the fight is going to be.

      The one caveat for the Left in all this is that the Left is playing a pure racial game electorally, and gambling all on presidential elections alone, even as their opposition appears to be picking up steam in other sectors and levels, sans skin pigmentation indicators.

      All or nothings are not good strategy, generally, particularly when platformed on something as unpredictable as racial politics. No politics holds forever, and racial politics is more volatile than most.

    2. Why does growing electoral strength in one part of the country necessitate a lessening elsewhere? What "fight" are we talking about? If Dems put forward a platform that more voters around the country can support than the Republican platform, then they'll to continue to govern.

      What is the Republican platform, anyway?

  8. It's the yin and yang of politics, and it's generally played out regionally. Take some time and review a few historical electoral maps, and you'll see it quite clearly. Regions flip and flop, and factions wax and wane. The current demographics also give indication of it, as does current politics, although I'm speaking more about longer range political trends.

    I'd hope the recently minted but vulgar term "battleground" would suffice to describe the "fight" being talked about here. But best not be asking general questions, if you haven't already done some of this foundational work, which given your questions, you don't appear to have done.

    I'd just leave you with this long established bit of political wisdom, and reiterate that no politics holds forever, and racial politics is perhaps the most volatile politics of all. When you strategize and put money down based upon skin pigmentation solely, you are taking a huge risk on that volatility.


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