Paths To Legislation

This morning’s big news from Washington is that there’s now been significant progress in the Senate on the hot button issues of guns and immigration. We talked about the latter yesterday: the Manchin-Toomey proposal on background checks that Senate Democrats and implicitly the White House will embrace, and which will likely produce a successful cloture vote today. Then word came down late yesterday that the Senate Gang of Eight had worked out the “outline” of a deal on comprehensive immigration reform. Here’s a description of the Rube Goldberg-ish sounding compromise from Julia Preston and Ashley Parker of the New York Times:

A bipartisan group of senators has largely agreed on a broad immigration bill that would require tough border measures to be in place before illegal immigrants could take the first steps to become American citizens, according to several people familiar with drafts of the legislation.

But in a delicate compromise worked out over weeks of negotiations, the bill does not impose any specific measurements of border enforcement results that, if they were not met, would stop the immigrants from proceeding toward citizenship.

Instead, the bill allows a period of 10 years for the Department of Homeland Security to make plans and use resources to fortify enforcement at the borders and elsewhere within the country before it sets several broader hurdles that could derail the immigrants’ progress toward citizenship if they are not achieved….

The senators’ compromise allows Republican lawmakers, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, to say that they achieved border enforcement advances in the bill as a condition before any illegal immigrants can apply for permanent-resident green cards, the first step toward citizenship.

But it also allows Democrats to describe the border measures as goals that can be achieved with the resources provided, so they will not become roadblocks that could stop the immigrants from reaching the final stage of citizenship.

Does this sound as rickety to you as it does to me? It appears the Gang is trying to create border security “triggers” that aren’t really the kind of circuit-breakers for immigration reform conservatives have been demanding as a minimum concession, and a “path to citizenship” that dare not utter the name of its destination.

Whatever this means in terms of Senate action on immigration reform, the heavily nativist House GOP waits down the road with a variety of demands that could thwart legislation, some jurisdictional (different committees want a piece of the action, and Tea Partiers are issuing their usual orders that everything move slowly in the name of “transparency”), some political (Hastert Rule objections to passing anything without Republican Conference support), some purely ideological (border enforcement “triggers” have to be “hardened,” and the destination for undocumented workers can only end in citizenship if they leave the country first). And for that matter, a lot of the same kinds of issues–particularly reimposition of the multiply-violated Hastert Rule–will come up when the House gets around to gun legislation, too.

So while this week’s news on guns and immigration has been positive, don’t get too giddy just yet. All the bipartisan groups of senators have accomplished so far is to create paths to legislation, not paths to citizenship or improved gun safety.

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.