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Immigration: Everybody Wins (on the Politics)

The Senate’s passage of the immigration-reform bill is a landmark moment … in the history of cynicism, I’m afraid. The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where it will die, just as the immigration-reform bill of 2006 died there under eerily similar circumstances. The political world has been consumed with the spectacle of the immigration bill for months now, even though from the outset, it was a reasonable bet it would never pass the House and therefore would never become law. So what was the point of all this action, this coverage, this debate?

Truth is, it helps everyone involved that the bill did not pass. Consider, first, the Republican senators who advocated the bill—primarily Marco Rubio of Florida—did so not only because they believe in a more open immigration system but because they live in states where they are obliged as an electoral matter to take serious account of Hispanic populations or whose industries rely heavily on immigration (both legal and illegal). Senators represent the entirety of the states in which they live, and the swing-state-ier their state is, the more they need to be more supple politically than their colleagues from states that are more lopsided in partisan terms. Win or lose, these senators have established a marker of bona fides with the electorates of their states that will make their reelection bids easier—assuming they are not defeated in primaries, of course.

Now consider the Republicans in opposition, both in the House and Senate. This was a gimme to them also. The party’s grass roots went absolutely ballistic over the bill, and so they can show their fealty to the base with a vote against. As for those grass-roots groups, this has been a fundraising bonanza for them, and also a thrilling way to demonstrate their hold over the party. So they too benefit from the defeat of immigration reform.

And Democrats? They have the best of both worlds. If legislation were to be signed by the president, they were confident it would have benefited their party politically by eventually creating new voters who they think would be in their camp. Failure would mean a new line of attack against Republicans with Hispanics to keep them in line and convinced the GOP is their enemy.

The only person whose political future is muddied by this in big-picture terms is Marco Rubio, whose opponents in the grass roots seem to believe he has made his nomination for the presidency in 2016 impossible. True? Maybe. But probably not. The primaries don’t begin for another 30 months, which is practically an epoch in politics, and a great many things will happen between now and then that will give Rubio a chance to boost his standing with those who dislike him now and will do injury to others the grass roots now seem to love. (Two words: Iran nukes.)

And please recall that the steward of the 2006 plan was one John McCain—who went on to win the GOP nomination in 2008. 



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