We All Agree on Immigration, But….

The rapidly emerging CW on comprehensive immigration reform is that it’s a fast train leaving the station, thanks to a collective decision by the Republican Party that continuing to be perceived as the Nativist Party would give it about as robust a political future as the Know-Nothings.

This morning Brother Benen pointed to a statement by none other than the King of the Nativists, Iowa congressman Steve King, expressing general agreement with the “principles” laid out by the bipartisan group of eight senators released yesterday. If Steve King’s sorta on board (perhaps, Steve Benen suggests, in anticipation of a Senate race), who could possibly resist?

Maybe, but I’m not quite so optimistic. To get a minor point out of the way, I doubt that the prospect of a Senate race is going to deter Steve King from expressing his ferocious views. He could come out for immediately dispatching bloodhounds to track down all undocumented workers and load them onto sealed cattle cars headed for the border, and he’d still be the odds-on favorite for the Senate nomination if he chooses to run.

More importantly, in making vaguely positive noises about comprehensive immigration reform, King is pursuing an old “yes, but–” strategy on this subject. Check out his statement in more detail:

I would ask the Senators, do you agree with me that the United States should have an enforced immigration policy designed to enhance the economic, social, and cultural well being of the United States of America? Do you believe the Rule of Law and national sovereignty are essential components of a successful nation? Do you believe employers should be allowed to deduct wages and benefits paid to illegal aliens as a business expense? I’m guessing the ‘Gang of Eight’ would be inclined to agree with me on my principles. But, I predict that they will oppose my every effort to get them into law.

The president has demonstrated he will only enforce the laws that he likes. Promises of future law enforcement made under the 1986 Amnesty Act were not adequately kept by President Reagan. Why, then, would Americans accept the promise of this president?

Lord-a-mercy, King is saying that even the sainted Ronald Reagan couldn’t be trusted to keep a promise to enforce border controls accompanying an “amnesty” bill! This “sounds good, but show me the enforcement” reaction to the Senate proposal is, as Byron York reports, very common among conservatives at the moment:

Back in 2007, as he ran for the Republican nomination for president, [Sen. John] McCain ran into a torrent of opposition in the early caucus and primary states.

GOP voters didn’t buy a “comprehensive” solution to illegal immigration. They wanted to see the border secured first. When a politician proposed to grant what critics called “amnesty,” and also secure the border at the same time, the skeptics believed the “amnesty” would happen but the security would not.

The New York Times‘ Michael Shear has another piece today reminding everyone that any immigration reform bill that can be said to undermine “the rule of law” (the same term King made central to his position) is in deep trouble among grassroots conservatives, especially in the South.

I indicated yesterday my gut feeling that the fate of comprehensive immigration reform legislation might ultimately depend on whether it’s subjected to the so-called “Hastert Rule” requiring majority intra-party support from House Republicans. But reform actually died in the Senate in 2007, even with a Republican president backing it. So maybe we’d better see more evidence of progress there before envisioning the president signing a bill.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.