What’s the Next Step on Immigration Reform?

Good reporting from NR’s Jonathan Strong highlights the weird dynamic on the next step for immigration reform.

Here’s the deal. Most Republicans, at the very least, want to pass something — so that they can deflect at least some of the blame for comprehensive reform failing, and at least to some extent because they really do support some legislation. But they can’t pass a comprehensive bill (at least not without relying on mostly Democratic votes), or even a mostly comprehensive bill. So the plan has been to pass a series of small bills that have wider support.

The problem? They may not have the votes for those, either.

There are two things going on here. One is that the tactical play for Democrats is to oppose each of the individual small bills unless they get some assurance that Republicans will eventually allow a vote on the part of reform that Democrats care about — the path to citizenship. The question is whether moderate Democrats will hang tight, even on small bills, such as “border security” provisions, which they actually support (or at least want to be on record as supporting).

And then on the Republican side, there’s a group which just likes voting against everything, even if they support the substance. On immigration, the excuse for voting no is that Boehner could use any successful bill as a mechanism for getting to conference, and then return to the House with something like the Senate bill, which would then pass the House with mostly Democratic votes. Now, this is basically nonsense. Not that Boehner might choose to pass a bill with mostly Democratic votes; that’s a real threat, or at least a real potential threat. But if the Speaker wants to do that, there’s nothing to prevent him from simply bringing up the Senate bill right now. Doesn’t matter; the “no” caucus just likes opposing everything.

Now, in a normal legislature with a normal majority party, the “no” caucus could be marginalized…well, they would be marginalizing themselves. If Boehner can’t pass something with 218 Republicans because the loony right won’t help him, he would move a bit to the center to pick up moderate Democrats.

However, that doesn’t work in the House we have. Partially because those moderate Democrats don’t want to play along (especially since they’ll be supporting any bills which are actually intended to become law, since those bill must get Barack Obama’s signature and therefore can’t be GOP-only). But mostly because many mainstream House Republicans are terrified of being called RINOs and sellouts, and therefore are terrified of separation between themselves and the crazy caucus.

At any rate: border security, at least, will pass the House if either moderate Democrats or the fringiest of conservative Republicans, all of whom support it, actually vote for it. My guess all along is that they probably won’t.

[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.