Writing today in the Corner at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg takes up the point I discussed earlier today about the necessity for Republicans not to frame the immigration reform issue as one in which their principal motivation is to avoid allowing more Hispanics to become Democratic voters. He agrees with me that’s wrong, but he also says that supporters of the gang of eight bill are mistaken to try and sell their legislation to the GOP on the grounds that it is good politics. He thinks the debate on the bill should rise and fall on its merits, and I’m perfectly happy to join him in supporting that sentiment.
Reform of a failed immigration system that makes a mockery of the rule of law and replacing it with something that both strengthens border security and provides productive and otherwise law-abiding residents of the United States a path to legalization is good policy. Contrary to many of our friends on the right who claim Republicans have a vital interest in derailing efforts to bring about that change, I see no conservative principle at stake in either defending the status quo or an unrealistic call for the deportation of 11 million people that we know are going nowhere. As many conservatives and most of the business community have long argued, immigration is not only a response to economic reality, it continues to be one of America’s great strengths and should be encouraged rather than opposed.
However, I disagree with Goldberg when he says that Republicans should not consider the political implications of the issue. He’s right that votes on the bill should be determined by “the national interest” on such a major issue and that, as I noted in my piece, there is no guarantee that poor Hispanics will become Republicans just because the party backs immigration reform. But while the bill isn’t going to be sold to the party simply because it is good politics, the problem is that strident anti-immigration voices on the right have already put the GOP in a position where it must do something to rebrand itself on the issue in order to have a hope of turning the situation around.
As I noted earlier today, Marco Rubio is taking the brunt of the backlash from some conservatives who oppose efforts to reform America’s failed immigration system. But whatever impact Rubio’s stand in favor of the bipartisan compromise bill currently being considered by the Senate has on his presidential prospects, Republicans should be worried about the tenor of the debate that is developing on the right about the legislation.
While I think GOP critics of the immigration reform bill that claim any path to citizenship for illegals undermines the rule of law have a weak case (since the status quo makes a mockery of the rule of law), it is at least an argument based in principle. But if the main theme of those trying to block reform becomes one that centers on the idea that illegals that become citizens will by themselves tip the political balance of the country toward Democrats, as talk show host Steve Deace writes today in Politico, then the problem is not so much Rubio’s as it is the party as a whole. It is a short leap from that assertion to one of general resentment of a national demographic shift in which the percentage of Hispanics has risen. Loose talk along these lines has become endemic in some quarters of the right and it is time for leading Republicans—including those who disagree with Rubio on the reform bill—to stamp it out before it saddles the GOP with liberal attacks that won’t be easily answered by the usual (and generally correct) rejoinder about media bias.
With immigration reform at the top of the domestic agenda as Congress prepares to vote in the coming weeks on the bipartisan gang of eight bill, the spotlight is shining very brightly right now on Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio remains the key player on immigration because he is the link between the gang and conservatives. Without him, the scheme has no chance, no matter how it is modified, of ever gaining approval in both houses of Congress. The bill gives Rubio the opportunity to run for president in 2016 after having actually accomplishing something important, showing that he is a doer and not just a talker as well as demonstrating that the GOP can appeal to Hispanics. But all the attention he is getting isn’t necessarily helping him.
As a package of features in Politico today makes clear, Rubio is under attack from both the right and the left. Some on the right are now damning him as a dupe of the left and a Washington insider while some of his allies in the gang of eight are suspecting that Rubio’s attempts to toughen up the enforcement aspects of the legislation will destroy it. Both the right and Rubio’s liberal gang colleagues worry that he is betraying them. Having decided to prove that he was a politician of substance, the senator is finding that it is easier to run your mouth without taking responsibility for trying to fix a problem. While some critics wonder whether he has the intestinal fortitude to stick with a position under fire and guide a complicated piece of legislation to passage, a portion of his own party is already writing him off for 2016 because of the hostility reform has engendered among grass roots conservatives who are openly hostile to immigrants.
All of which proves that the senator’s decision to stake his reputation on immigration reform is a gamble that could make or break him. But while the bill’s future is very much up in the air, the question of how Rubio will come out of this depends more on the way he conducts himself in the coming weeks than it does on whether the reform package becomes law.
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.
The complexity of writing and enacting comprehensive immigration reform at the congressional level is such that seemingly conflicting news reports of progress and setbacks can both be right. Today is no different. First, the progress: the Senate voted to send the comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor for debate, which will likely last for the next few weeks.
Matthew Yglesias reported two weeks ago about a compromise on so-called high-skilled worker visas, or H1-B visas, that helped paved the way for the bill’s passage out of committee and gave it a shove forward. He wrote:
The basic issue is that the Gang of 8 immigration framework both expanded the H1-B skilled guest worker program and added some new hoops that companies have to jump through if they want to hire H1-B workers. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a longtime ally of the technology industry on this issue, had a couple of amendments that would basically pair those hoops back. Dick Durbin, a major ally of the union groups that don’t like H1-B but also a major ally of Latino advocacy organizations, did not like those amendments.
The result was that they basically met somewhere in the middle, with the amended version of the bill passing out of committee with 13 yes votes and 5 no votes; Hatch was a yes vote. Hatch wouldn’t promise to vote for the final bill, but his support gave the bill momentum and allowed the process to take a not-insignificant step forward. Yglesias approvingly noted that this is “how the legislative process in the United States is supposed to work,” but acknowledged that the high-skilled visa portion is far from the most controversial aspect of the bill. Nonetheless, the bill proceeded with key support from both sides.
The coverage of the effort to reform the country’s massively inefficient and outdated immigration system has usually focused on where the controversy has been thus far: Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform vs. the Republicans in opposition to this particular legislative effort. But the coverage in recent days has shifted, reminding us that Democrats are part of the process too, and not simply along for the ride.
It’s easy to forget that, because the general assumption has been that since Democrats support immigration reform they’ll sign on to virtually any bill crafted by a bipartisan working group, confident that at least their most pressing concerns and priorities are addressed. It isn’t unlike the ease with which Democrats can usually get Republicans to support a robust projection of American power when there are national security threats to be addressed. But two stories from the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker and one from Politico illustrate the challenge of massive reform bills crafted by two ideologically distinct parties.
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:
Ask yourself the following question out loud: How will Marco Rubio vote on the current iteration of comprehensive immigration reform? If you’ve been following the immigration debate at all, the question probably sounds pretty silly. Rubio, after all, helped craft the bill after galvanizing momentum for it on the right while putting together a bipartisan coalition to stave off President Obama’s interference.
Rubio was front and center at the bill’s rollout, and he promptly made the rounds on conservative talk radio shows to stand between the reform bill and a very skeptical conservative grassroots audience. But perhaps in a sign of just how far the momentum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, apparently whether Rubio will vote for his own bill is actually up for debate. Buried in Politico’s feature today on the future of the bill is this nugget:
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.
One of the obstacles to garnering support for comprehensive immigration reform is the federal government’s poor reputation for enforcing the laws on the books. Advocates for immigration reform correctly point out that the current system amounts to a kind of unofficial, but clear, amnesty for illegal immigrants. While that claim is often deployed in defense of the current immigration reform efforts, it does raise the seeming contradiction of the bill’s proponents acknowledging the government’s underwhelming track record while asking the public to believe the government will get it right this time.
This is a common problem for supporters of any major overhaul. When President Obama talked about offsetting Medicare provider cuts by rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse (that slippery target that perennially plays Road Runner to the government’s Wile E. Coyote), the obvious response was to ask him why they haven’t already simply eliminated the waste, fraud, and abuse if they know it’s there, and why they need a reform bill to do so at all. So it is with “securing the border” and other elements of immigration reform. And Marco Rubio, a member of the “gang of eight” senators behind the current immigration reform legislation, is conceding as much. Politico reports that, because of those concerns, Rubio doesn’t think his own bill could pass the House:
During a speech to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Attorney General Eric Holder said that creating a “pathway to earned citizenship” was a “civil right.” Mr. Holder put it this way:
Creating a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country is essential. The way we treat our friends and neighbors who are undocumented – by creating a mechanism for them to earn citizenship and move out of the shadows – transcends the issue of immigration status. This is a matter of civil and human rights. It is about who we are as a nation. And it goes to the core of our treasured American principle of equal opportunity.
As someone who believes in earned citizenship if it’s done in the context of other steps related to border security and encouraging more high-skilled workers coming to America, perhaps I have a bit of standing to say that what Holder said is nonsense. Offering earned citizenship to illegal aliens falls under the category of prudential arguments about immigration reform. There are serious policy arguments on both sides.
But Attorney General Holder’s claim is more than simply silly; it is also pernicious. It attempts to frame this debate not on the merits of granting a pathway to citizenship for those who have violated our laws; it’s an effort to frame it as a conflict between those who support (good people) and those who oppose (bad people) basic human rights. This is an effort, in other words, to demonize those with whom one disagrees, and therefore creates yet more polarization and anger and self-righteousness in a debate that probably needs less of it.
The debate about immigration reform was already heating up on the right even before the revelation that the Boston Marathon bombing gave an excuse to some in Congress to put off consideration of the topic. As Seth noted, Senator Rand Paul’s decision to pull back on the issue makes it possible the topic could be used by the libertarian leader or some other conservative as an issue against gang-of-eight member Senator Marco Rubio. And with the influential Heritage Foundation’s new leader, former Senator Jim Demint, going all out to stop the bipartisan compromise that Rubio is fronting, getting the bill through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not be easy.
Reform advocates did get a boost yesterday when Representative Paul Ryan indicated his support of the underlying principles of the bill even if he did not formally endorse it. Ryan has a great deal of influence with House Republicans as well as Speaker John Boehner, but his chances of rallying the GOP against DeMint’s push won’t be helped by a Politico feature that argues that the passage of the bill effectively ensures that the Democrats won’t be losing any national elections in the foreseeable future. The piece argues that if the 11 million illegal immigrants take advantage of the path to citizenship offered by the Senate bill, the reform will produce an “electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.”
This is exactly the kind of talk designed to scare the GOP grass roots into insensibility, since many of them already believe that a biased liberal media, voter fraud and the generous federal patronage plums and benefits have created an uphill slog for any Republican in a national election. But while the logic of this assumption of a windfall of potential Democratic voters can’t be ignored, Republicans would be foolish to assume that it makes sense for them to stonewall immigration reform. If they truly wish to continue as a national political force and as a natural party of government they must reject the idea that keeping more Hispanics out of the United States is their only hope of survival.
Since passing a Senate immigration bill with broad Republican support would vastly increase the chances of the bill passing the House, opponents of the proposed comprehensive immigration reform have been looking for an ally in the Senate GOP caucus to stall the bill. They have settled, it seems, on Ted Cruz. The freshman Texas senator is popular with the base and has consistently sought out ways to make his presence known in the upper chamber. He is also Hispanic, which–fairly or unfairly–makes it easier for him to oppose immigration reform.
But Cruz is not the most important voice in the Senate GOP on immigration–that distinction goes to Marco Rubio, who is crafting and selling the bill. Nor is Cruz the most important Republican outside the “gang of eight” who led efforts to put the bill together. Cruz is an important voice, for the reasons mentioned above. So is Paul Ryan–who plays a key role in House legislation and often serves as a bridge between the base and the House leadership–since the bill would have to pass the House after gaining the Senate’s approval. But those who want to get a sense of the fate awaiting the immigration bill should be watching Rand Paul.
As more information filters in about the background of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, the country is beginning the process of trying to process the horror we have witnessed this week and put in some context that might impact our views on policy questions. What we know at the moment about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev isn’t much, but it is enough to already throw out some of the pet theories about “white Americans” that were floated this week by irresponsible writers. Others may now substitute that foolishness for new equally specious theories that will seek to connect these two legal immigrants who reportedly attained citizenship with the topic of immigration in order to spike any chance of passing legislation to reform the current system.
The main focus today and in the coming days should be about homegrown terrorism and the question of what factors served to radicalize these two young men. But as much as we should resist any attempt to impute guilt by association with all Chechen immigrants or even all Muslims, as opposed to Islamist radicals, there is a connection between this crime and the question of border security. As we examine how this plot eluded the attention of security officials and what, if any, connection the Tsarnaevs may have had with foreign terror groups, it’s worth pondering just how antiquated and useless many of our efforts to defend the border currently are.
The president’s push for a gun control bill in the Senate had many weaknesses–which is why it ultimately failed–but one of those weaknesses surely was the fact that the bill would never become law anyway. Gun control was doomed in the House, even if it passed the Senate. The same cannot be said, however, for comprehensive immigration reform. And while the “gang of eight” immigration proposal is far from a sure thing in either house of Congress, the stakes are so high precisely because it may succeed.
And that also helps explain the sense of urgency displayed by the Republican half of the gang of eight. Those four Republicans include two veterans of the pro-immigration reform wing of the GOP, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as McCain’s Arizona colleague Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio. Politico reports on the efforts of the GOP gang members, especially Graham and Rubio, to get out in front by working to define the bill first and by making the rounds on conservative talk radio shows. Those programs were credited with galvanizing conservative grassroots opposition to the last major immigration reform push in 2007. According to Politico:
The details of the long-awaited bipartisan immigration reform bill are out, and there is much to digest, though the bill contains few if any surprises. But one concern that hangs over the process is whether the bill’s proponents and sponsors can convince the public that the text of the law will also be the reality of the law. Several recent stories have called this into question.
In his column in yesterday’s Washington Examiner, Byron York lays out the details of the three enforcement measures–E-Verify, border security, and visa monitoring–as well as the “triggers” to allow illegal immigrants to apply for green cards and citizenship and the process by which they can do so. But there are indications that the skeptics will not be mollified. York writes:
Walter Russell Mead has written a post arguing that the Bush administration was a “first class political disaster” for the Republican Party. The Bush presidency was “not a success,” according to Mead, and Republicans need to deal with the failures, “real and perceived,” and do so “openly and honestly.”
“Fluency in discussing the disasters of the Bush years is going to be a job requirement for Republican candidates and mandarins for some time to come,” Mead informs us. But having declared the vital role fluency should play in public debate, Mr. Mead proceeds to demonstrate his own ignorance on a range of matters.
Marco Rubio may have made Sunday morning television history yesterday when he managed to appear on seven shows to speak in support of the bipartisan compromise immigration bill on which he and seven other Senate colleagues have been working. Rubio was both eloquent and convincing in his advocacy for immigration reform. Indeed, the only moments in which he appeared to falter in any of his appearances came not when he was asked to defend the proposed bill but to discuss his own political future.
Wherever he went, Rubio was asked about the impact of his embrace of immigration reform on his presidential hopes. Given that his position on this issue is one that may offend many members of own party while also making him potentially more attractive to independents and some Democrats, this is a fair question, albeit one he probably is better off not answering. But rather than merely punt on the question of whether he is thinking of running for president with a bland and probably honest reply indicating that he hasn’t made up his mind, Rubio went further than that, saying he hadn’t even thought about the implications of his stands on his possible candidacy and that he hadn’t even thought about whether he would run in 2016.
Such patently disingenuous answers are commonplace in politics, a business where blatant dishonesty can often be the coin of the realm. Tradition holds that presidential candidates are not supposed to sound too eager about running since we generally like our would-be commanders-in-chief to sound diffident rather than eager about their desire for power. And three years from now, no one will care what Rubio or any other candidate said about running in 2013. But it must also be acknowledged that his willingness to fib about what he is thinking about contrasts unfavorably with potential rival Rand Paul’s open candor about his ambitions.
Rand Paul couldn’t be more out of sync with the eight members of the bipartisan group of senators that presented an immigration reform plan in January. While he has little in common with the four Democrats, he is particularly at odds with three of the four Republicans in the group. Paul is already seen as one of the chief rivals of Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential race. More than that, in the weeks since the plan was unveiled, the Kentucky senator has become embroiled in a public feud with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Both ridiculed his filibuster about the possibility that the U.S. government could use drone attacks on American citizens and McCain even called Paul a “wacko bird.” But today Paul will announce his support for the key element of their immigration proposal that has drawn the most fire from conservatives: a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
While Paul is not endorsing the gang of eight’s draft, the plan he unveils this morning will be similar on the most contentious elements of the immigration debate. This shows that although Paul appears to be at war with the bulk of the GOP caucus on foreign policy and views the attempt of the Republican National Committee to streamline the presidential nominating process as a direct threat to his candidacy, he is on board with both groups when it comes to a key issue on which many in the party believes it must change if it is to have a chance to win national elections in the future.
Last week I noted that President Obama has twice derailed comprehensive immigration reform–the first time (as a senator) with his support for “poison pill” amendments, and the second time with a temporary fix that did nothing to restructure the broken immigration system. It seems that now, however, it is the House GOP planting land mines under the reform process.
Politico reports that key House Republicans are considering dividing up immigration reform into a series of separate, minor fixes. This is unlikely to work, and may very well stop the momentum that had finally gathered in Congress and the sense of urgency felt by many in the party to get the immigration issue off the table once and for all. (Marco Rubio, for his part, will reportedly deliver the Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address in both English and Spanish, increasing his outreach efforts to the Hispanic community.)
That is not to say that each facet of the system isn’t in need of some improvements, or that the individual pieces of legislation that would come out of this effort wouldn’t be worth enacting. It also may be the case that some Republicans in the House are aware that their party is the one most likely to block comprehensive reform, and are therefore making a good-faith attempt to craft legislation they know can pass the House. That would at least salvage some of the work being done if the reform effort stalls. But there are a couple of problems with the GOP’s plan. Politico reports: