Immigration Reform? Maybe

I have a post up about Marco Rubio’s (perhaps) flip on immigration, and about the breakdown of the House bipartisan talks. I’m sticking with what I’ve always said: the big question here is whether mainstream House conservatives want a bill or not. If they do, John Boehner will bring up the Senate bill and let it pass; if not, he won’t. End of story.

Matt Yglesias has the same logic, but thinks that surely House Republicans will want it to fail, as have a few people I’ve seen on twitter. I’ve written a bunch of things that all concluded that it was all up to House mainstream conservatives, but haven’t engaged at all on what their incentives are. So I’ll give it a shot here.

Here’s Yglesias:

From the GOP perspective, the calculus of a path to citizenship has two elements. On the one hand, most of these new citizens would probably be Democrats. On the other hand, taking part in a bipartisan immigration reform effort might open Latino voters’ ears to other aspects of the GOP message. But the absolute worst-case scenario is one in which a path to citzenship becomes law over the loud objections of GOP-elected officials. 

So he concludes it’s “unlikely” that the House would do it.

He might be right! But there’s another point of view which also might win out. Republicans might decide that there’s a collective action problem here in which the party as a whole (and especially their future presidential candidates) are better off if immigration passes, but most Members of the House (and many Senators) are better off if they vote against it.

And what Yglesias considers the worst-case might not be. Remember, the bill that’s going to move, if one does, is the bipartisan Senate bill — a bill which guarantees that at least three Republicans (the Gang of Eight minus Rubio) will get a fair amount of the credit and will earn a trip to a White House signing ceremony. So opposition to the bill might not be seen as a partisan split even if the majority of Republicans vote against it, and at any rate it might be better for GOP-Latino relations to have the issue disappear after a bill passes than for the issue to stick around to 2016 and beyond.

What it might come down to, really, is that bit about “loud objections of GOP-elected officials.” If Congressional opponents of the bill can manage to avoid arguments perceived as bigoted — if they can restrict themselves to praise for immigrants and immigration reform but just not quite this bill — then the whole thing could at least plausibly work for both individual Members and the GOP as a whole. But if the debate is bound to descend into immigrant-bashing, then it doesn’t.

The only other thing I could add here is that all of this is about perceptions, not reality. The question isn’t what will actually be good for the GOP as a whole; it’s what individual Members of the House believe will be good.

I have no idea what House conservatives are actually thinking. I just can’t see either side being clear and obvious. And my guess is we won’t start to know the answers until after the Senate acts.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.