A Delicate Piece of Construction, or a House of Cards?

The editors of Bloomberg View have an interesting opinion piece on prospects for passage of comprehensive immigration reform. While they’re trying to be upbeat, and lavish a lot of praise on Marco Rubio for his “courage” in joining the Gang of Eight, they can’t help but note that the gang’s proposal is one of those constructions (they call it “delicate”) that could get pulled apart by excessively touching any number of pressure points. And so they conclude:

The comprehensive, balanced and, yes, compromised nature of the bill is both its chief strength and its greatest vulnerability. Opposition to immigration reform is real. Although Republican leaders appear to understand that reform is in their political interest, more Republican voters oppose a path to citizenship than support it. (A majority of Democrats and independents, by contrast, support it.)

To keep the bill on track will require fortitude from Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who has linked his political fortunes to immigration reform. Rubio has courageously appeared on conservative radio shows to dispel myths and fears over immigration. He must do more of that in the weeks ahead. To be successful, he will also need the tacit approval of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, who will have to engineer a winning vote in both houses of Congress with less than full support from Republican members.

Immigration reform promises to be a messy process, and not everything will go according to plan. But the legislation introduced this week moves the nation in the right direction. It deserves support.

Look at that penultimate paragraph again and count the “ifs.” Rubio has to resist pressure from his party and his ideological brethren to mess with the bill’s “balance” very much. Mitch McConnell, who right now seems more preoccupied with heading off a wingnut primary challenge than anything else on earth, has to have Rubio’s back. So, too, does John Boehner, who will have to violate the “Hastert Rule” yet again by letting a bill come to the floor without majority Republican support, and then will have to honk off the conservatives who are forever plotting his demise yet again by appointing conferees who won’t blow up Senate support for the measure, and after all that will have to get a final conference report through the House with another “Hastert Rule” violation.

And all of that intra-GOP maneuvering will have to occur in a context that doesn’t threaten Democratic support for an immigration bill.

That’s a “delicate” situation all right, that could finally make the whole Gang of Eight product look like a house of cards.

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.