Could the “Defund Obamacare” Furor Help Pass Immigration Reform?

While we are talking about the endgame of this year’s immigration reform fight, there’s one particularly ironic contingency that should be kept in the back of one’s mind: what if the sudden conservative activist obsession with “defunding Obamacare” as a demand being made of Republican Members of Congress convinces those self-same Members that allowing an immigration bill to come to a vote in the House isn’t the career-ender it looked like a few weeks ago?

Greg Sargent astutely picked up on Byron York’s discussion of this possibility earlier this week. Said York:

“There’s definitely more interest right now in Obamacare than immigration, partly because folks believe immigration has been stopped or slowed,” says conservative radio host Bill Bennett of the calls he receives from listeners. “The passion against Obamacare never subsides”….

If August goes quietly on the immigration front, some Republican lawmakers may return to Washington with the sense that voters back home don’t really mind that immigration reform goes forward. And then it will. If, on the other hand, lawmakers hear expressions of serious opposition at town meetings, their conclusion will be just the opposite. And reform will likely go down to defeat.

So Democrats don’t really mind if Republicans use up all their grass-roots energy railing about Obamacare. It’s already the law. What would be a problem for Democrats, and for some pro-reform Republicans, is if the GOP grassroots concentrated its fire on immigration reform. That could well mean the end of President Obama’s top legislative priority for his second term.

The influential York, who opposes the Senate immigration bill and thinks the “defund Obamacare” strategy for the fall fiscal fight is a loser, is concerned enough about the possibility of the latter drive obscuring the former that he’s taking the trouble to attack it. So many this most unforeseeable development, in which one conservative grassroots frenzy effectively negates another one, is a more serious possibility than we might have imagined.

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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.