As Republicans saw their dream of Healthcare.gov never becoming functional enough to work fall apart this week, it became clear that they’re about to face a nightmare when it comes to immigration reform.
When asked if reform would happen in 2014, Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Thursday, “I’ve learned not to make future promises from this podium.”
It was from that podium that the speaker promised he would never vote on the bipartisan Senate bill last month.
House Republicans have vowed to never enter into conference on the Senate’s bill, knowing that’s the clearest path for comprehensive reform to become law.
Boehner is still unlikely ever to take that path but he’s signaling that he’s leaving himself options. The speaker has also brought Rebecca Tallent, John McCain’s former immigration advisor, on to his staff.
These moves have the far right self-described “anti-amnesty” folks freaking out.
The Breitbart.com/Malkin corners of the GOP are certain — and are probably right — that a series of immigration votes are coming as soon as the deadline for Tea Partiers to launch primary challenges passes.
The GOP’s challenge is that immigration reform doesn’t help them at all in 2014 as they defend their seats in mostly white, mostly rural districts. However, not passing reform now and trying to do so and failing before the 2016 election could cost them the White House. If they make a big enough mess of it, it could eventually even cost them Texas, which would be the end of the GOP as a national party.
House Republicans don’t realize it right now but they’re on that path to turn Texas purple in an election or two then blue.
The only minority outreach they’ve done in 2013 is to George Zimmerman, and the only immigration legislation they passed would deport millions of law-abiding students and veterans.
At some point next year, the House GOP has to make a choice. And they have three options:
1. Kill reform — safe for the base and 2014
Don’t pass anything the president could sign. President Obama has signaled that he’s open to piecemeal reform “as long as all the pieces are there.” The House could pass some legislation but nothing that legalizes any undocumented immigrants, the “anti-amnesty” rabble’s main objection, and try to blame the president for reform’s failure. This will likely confirm every fear that minorities have about the Republican Party.
2. A bit of reform — split the baby and corner the president
Strategically, this is an interesting option for the GOP. They could go for some form legalization without a path to citizenship. This could be even just a version of the DREAM Act that would at least legalize the students and veterans that were brought to America as kids. And Republicans could buttress this concession with a ton of border security measures. This would put the president in a tough position, if Republicans were savvy enough to pass something the Latino community is in favor of.
President Obama is facing pressure from activists to stop deportations, so rejecting any legalization would alienate him from the group that’s working hardest for reform. He could sign what the GOP passes and make 2014 a referendum about doing more. For Republicans, this strategy would enrage their Tea Party/evangelical base, which would probably be the smartest thing they could do to improve their favorability among non-Republicans. The question is if they can withstand the barrage of hate from the hate machine they’ve built — AM radio, social media, protests — to keep themselves in power.
3. Comprehensive reform — go all in
The House GOP could do what Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan planned to do before the base began to gnaw at them — take their medicine and pass real reform that would grow the economy and cut the deficit. Even if full capitulation likely wouldn’t dramatically increase the 24% or so of the Latino vote Mitt Romney won, it would prevent that share dwindling down to the 10% of the African American vote the GOP typically wins. There are huge risks to this strategy, obviously. If the GOP pursues real reform, the result could be the birth of a third party or a Republican in the White House in 2016.
Conservatives are gleefully enjoying the president’s dismal poll numbers, mostly the result of two months of the website of the president’s signature legislative accomplishment just not working.
They’ll be able to delude themselves for a while. But soon they’ll realize that that two issues that will define and possibly divide their party — immigration reform and Medicaid expansion — haven’t gone away.
[Image via Fibonacci Blue/Flickr]