The bipartisan immigration reform seems to have gathered momentum in recent weeks, but the path to eventual passage is by no means clear. As Seth noted again yesterday, President Obama continues to walk the fine line between cheerleading for the legislation and statements that could be aimed at alienating potential Republican supporters for the bill. But Obama’s histrionics, such as his completely unnecessary dog-and-pony show for the media yesterday, may not be the real problem. As the Senate prepares to debate the measure and consider amendments, the real obstacle could turn out to be Harry Reid. The majority leader weighed in today on the bill and issued a warning that should worry the gang of eight that produced the reform package more than its opponents.
As Politico reports:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated on Wednesday that he would not allow the Gang of Eight immigration bill to require stricter border security measures merely in order to attract Republican votes.
“Our goal now is to pass the strongest legislation possible with as many votes as possible while staying true to our principles,” Reid said.
Staying true to principles is one thing, but a refusal to negotiate in good faith with Republicans who are looking to find a way to support the measure is quite another. Reid is on record calling Texas Senator John Cornyn’s amendment that would include a “hard trigger” on enforcement before illegal immigrants can hope for citizenship a poison pill. But unlike Reid, gang leader Chuck Schumer is keeping quiet while making it clear that he is ready to talk to GOP senators who remain on the fence and to come up with a compromise that will strengthen enforcement. Schumer is intent on getting a bill that will have the kind of broad-based support that will give it a chance of passage in the House of Representatives while Reid seems more interested in a result that would ensure it fails in the other body so as to give Democrats a chance to blame the GOP for failure.
When the Heritage Foundation announced that the pathbreaking D.C. think tank had hired South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint to succeed its influential founder and president Ed Feulner, most of the political world took it as confirmation that Heritage would continue in a direction in which it was already heading. With the establishment of its activist 501(c)4 arm Heritage Action for America, the organization had been taking a much more involved role in fights over congressional legislation, and even began “scoring” legislators on their votes.
They had made it clear, as well, that they would openly challenge members of Congress on legislation they opposed before the voting actually took place. And that is how DeMint, who as a senator was instrumental in bringing Marco Rubio into the Tea Party fold, came to spend the last two days arguing with Rubio through the political press. The tiff began in earnest on Monday when Heritage (not Heritage Action) released a study purporting to show the cost of Rubio’s immigration reform proposal at $6.3 trillion. As Politico reported, conservatives struck back at Heritage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Paul Ryan, and scholars at the Cato Institute accused Heritage of ignoring the economic benefits of immigration to the country. Yesterday, Rubio responded:
It’s been a couple of weeks since the so-called Senate “gang of eight” unveiled the bipartisan immigration reform compromise proposal, but there’s little doubt about which of the eight have now inextricably tied their political fate to that of this bill. Though he may be a junior member of the gang, the legislation is now as much about Marco Rubio and his presidential hopes as it is about the issue itself. So it’s no surprise that our friends and colleagues at National Review, who were once to be counted among the Florida senator’s greatest enthusiasts, are now labeling the immigration bill as “Rubio’s Folly” in the cover story of their latest issue.
NR and a host of other conservative critics, including Rubio’s erstwhile friend, former Senator Jim DeMint, who steered the Heritage Foundation into the fight against reform, have established the meme that Rubio was “rolled” by Democrat Chuck Schumer and the other liberals on the gang. Their point is that promises about border security in the bill are either imaginary or not to be relied upon. NR’s formidable writer Stanley Kurtz adds to this indictment by claiming today that the funding for efforts to integrate immigrants into American society is similarly fraudulent. But that piece, like many other critiques of Rubio and the bill, seem to take the position that the only responsible position for conservatives to take is to oppose any further immigration at all under the current circumstances. With liberals threatening to add poison pill amendments about including rights for gay spouses into the bill, it’s little wonder that Rubio has at times sounded worried about the bill’s chances of passage in the GOP-controlled House.
This is the point in the drama where a relatively inexperienced senator who has been promoted to the political big leagues too fast might falter or, even worse, panic and lash out at his critics, leading to a meltdown that could doom his ability to ever go back to conservatives to ask for their votes for president. But so far Rubio has not only kept his cool but also maintained a balanced approach to critics of the bill that speaks well for his ability to survive the onslaught against it, which has increasingly been focused as much on him as the details of the scheme.
While I favor a (difficult but achievable) path to legal status and citizenship for illegal immigrants in America, it also seems to me to be a good idea to build a fence/wall on the southern border, both for substantive and symbolic reasons. That is, I believe doing so would make crossing the border to America both more difficult (as it should be) and signal to undocumented workers that America is a sovereign nation that takes its sovereignty seriously.
Still, we need to bear in mind what the facts of the situation are when it comes to illegal immigration. And here Linda Chavez’s recent essay in COMMENTARY is helpful, including this: