There is no greater obstacle to achieving comprehensive immigration reform than the perverse system of incentives created by its absence. We have written at length here about pro-immigration reform Republicans’ concern that President Obama would torpedo negotiations, and that this concern arose from the fact that Obama has twice now done precisely that, either singlehandedly or close to it.
In 2007, Obama did this by joining the immigration reform inner circle in the Senate and then supporting a poison-pill amendment to tank the negotiations, frustrating even his Democratic allies like Ted Kennedy. In 2012, Obama used an executive action that stopped Marco Rubio’s bipartisan reform proposal in its tracks. In both cases, Obama had reason to do so: in 2007, he wanted to prevent Republicans from getting a policy win on an issue he needed for the 2008 general election, and in 2012 he again used immigration as a cudgel against the GOP in his re-election campaign. And while Obama no longer needs the issue on the table for his own electoral purposes, he may want it to linger unresolved long enough to hurt Republicans in the 2014 midterms.
There is, however, an additional obstacle on the side claiming to support reform that has generally been able to fly under the radar. Marc Caputo writes at the Miami Herald:
The request from the liberal Campaign to Reform Immigration for America was simple — but strange.
“Ask Marco Rubio to support a pathway to citizenship,” a caller from the group said.
“Marco Rubio already supports a pathway to citizenship,” I said when I answered my home phone Wednesday. “I don’t understand.”
“He doesn’t support a pathway to citizenship,” the caller shot back.
Me: “Umm, yes he does.”
Caller: “No. He only supports a system of temporary work permits…”
Me: “I really think you have your facts wrong. Where are you getting them?”
The caller hung up.
Caputo asked the organization’s spokesman why his liberal callers were doing something so bizarre as to claim to support a policy, then identify conservatives who also support their efforts, then call voters and accuse those conservatives of being on the other side. The spokesman said the caller went “off script” and would be “retrained.”
But Caputo already knew the real answer: “If immigration reform dies, then activist groups on all sides of the political spectrum live to fight again.”
It’s one thing to be a liberal interest group and maniacally send fundraising scare-letters every time a Republican’s actions can be twisted into the prevailing liberal conspiracy theory du jour. The issues change by the day, but there’s always something for the MoveOns of the world to grouse about. But what about the liberal groups devoted to one single issue? It turns out, they have a lot to lose by winning.
For the Democratic politicians who actually want to pass immigration reform, however, this behavior only works against them. For those wondering how to tell the difference between a pro-immigration Democrat and a Democrat who, like the president and Caputo’s activist caller, may not actually want reform to succeed, the answer is hinted at in a Washington Post piece this afternoon on the subject:
Senate Democrats should hope that Rubio sticks with the group, because the party needs more than a few Republicans to sign onto immigration reform in the upper chamber for the legislation to have any hope of passing in the GOP-controlled House.
“We don’t want this bill to be, you know, 53 Democrats and just a handful of Republicans because we need broad bipartisan support, particularly to get a bill done in the House,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face The Nation.” Schumer is part of the “Gang of Eight.”
If you want to know what kind of immigration reform can pass both houses of Congress and garner enough support on the right while still achieving the goals of the reform process, Rubio is the one to watch. So how Rubio’s Democratic counterparts behave toward him will tell you who is serious about reform and who is looking for an ethnic-politics wedge issue.
Liberals who seek to confuse the public about where Rubio stands to portray the sides as farther apart than they are, such as the caller from the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America, are not serious about reform. And when the White House pushes back against Rubio’s importance to the process while giving the president credit for the progress, it’s a sign that maybe those callers from the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America should be directing public pressure not at Rubio, but at Obama.