Political Animal


January 29, 2013 10:26 AM We All Agree on Immigration, But….

By Ed Kilgore

The rapidly emerging CW on comprehensive immigration reform is that it’s a fast train leaving the station, thanks to a collective decision by the Republican Party that continuing to be perceived as the Nativist Party would give it about as robust a political future as the Know-Nothings.

This morning Brother Benen pointed to a statement by none other than the King of the Nativists, Iowa congressman Steve King, expressing general agreement with the “principles” laid out by the bipartisan group of eight senators released yesterday. If Steve King’s sorta on board (perhaps, Steve Benen suggests, in anticipation of a Senate race), who could possibly resist?

Maybe, but I’m not quite so optimistic. To get a minor point out of the way, I doubt that the prospect of a Senate race is going to deter Steve King from expressing his ferocious views. He could come out for immediately dispatching bloodhounds to track down all undocumented workers and load them onto sealed cattle cars headed for the border, and he’d still be the odds-on favorite for the Senate nomination if he chooses to run.

More importantly, in making vaguely positive noises about comprehensive immigration reform, King is pursuing an old “yes, but—” strategy on this subject. Check out his statement in more detail:

I would ask the Senators, do you agree with me that the United States should have an enforced immigration policy designed to enhance the economic, social, and cultural well being of the United States of America? Do you believe the Rule of Law and national sovereignty are essential components of a successful nation? Do you believe employers should be allowed to deduct wages and benefits paid to illegal aliens as a business expense? I’m guessing the ‘Gang of Eight’ would be inclined to agree with me on my principles. But, I predict that they will oppose my every effort to get them into law.
The president has demonstrated he will only enforce the laws that he likes. Promises of future law enforcement made under the 1986 Amnesty Act were not adequately kept by President Reagan. Why, then, would Americans accept the promise of this president?

Lord-a-mercy, King is saying that even the sainted Ronald Reagan couldn’t be trusted to keep a promise to enforce border controls accompanying an “amnesty” bill! This “sounds good, but show me the enforcement” reaction to the Senate proposal is, as Byron York reports, very common among conservatives at the moment:

Back in 2007, as he ran for the Republican nomination for president, [Sen. John] McCain ran into a torrent of opposition in the early caucus and primary states.
GOP voters didn’t buy a “comprehensive” solution to illegal immigration. They wanted to see the border secured first. When a politician proposed to grant what critics called “amnesty,” and also secure the border at the same time, the skeptics believed the “amnesty” would happen but the security would not.

The New York Times’ Michael Shear has another piece today reminding everyone that any immigration reform bill that can be said to undermine “the rule of law” (the same term King made central to his position) is in deep trouble among grassroots conservatives, especially in the South.

I indicated yesterday my gut feeling that the fate of comprehensive immigration reform legislation might ultimately depend on whether it’s subjected to the so-called “Hastert Rule” requiring majority intra-party support from House Republicans. But reform actually died in the Senate in 2007, even with a Republican president backing it. So maybe we’d better see more evidence of progress there before envisioning the president signing a bill.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on January 29, 2013 10:35 AM:

    I hope you are right Ed, because if you are the Republican party is going to die sooner than later. I suspect, however, that despite the clear arithmatic shortcomings of their math wizard Paul Ryan, Republicans can count.

    I think immigration reform is going to pass.

  • c u n d gulag on January 29, 2013 10:41 AM:

    If we do get closer to immigration reform, today's grumbling from the conservative base, will become a full-throated roar of, "PRIMARY HIM/HER!!!"

    So, Republicans who supprort the measure, will be damned by the changing demographics if they don't support the measure, and damned by their base, if they do.

    When neither closed door is likely to have a lady behind it, then you'd best assume both doors have tigers, and stay where you are, and don't open any doors.

    My best guess is, this is a trail balloon to see which way the wind is blowing.
    And, I don't think they'll need a weatherman once they smell the the hot stink of their bases stale whiskey and meth breath, to tell them, the wind ain't exactly blowing in the direction of immigration reform from them.

    I suspect this effort at immigration reform will be short-lived.

  • DTR on January 29, 2013 10:43 AM:

    Seems to me, after reading the "framework" for immigration reform there are holes that a war ship can sail through. Republicans will drop a bomb on anything of substance, because they really have no "better nature" and there has been no great awakening for the greater good. They are only in search of better snake oil.

    Mostly, this document was meant to give Rubio a leg up to national office and to restore the non-existent legacy of the oldest tantruming dementia toddler in the Senate.

  • rea on January 29, 2013 10:56 AM:

    You know what undermines the rule of law? Making things illegal that the government doesn't have the power to prevent!

  • MuddyLee on January 29, 2013 11:05 AM:

    It would be rational for the congressional republicans to help pass some sort of immigration reform so that the dems don't own the non-Cuban Hispanic vote in future elections. How often does the modern republican party look rational? It would have been "rational" in the long term for them to heed Kathleen Parker's call in the fall of 2008 to dump Sarah Palin once it was obvious that she was a loose cannon and not a candidate who could be taken seriously in a national race. But on inauguration day, conservative callers to NPR shows described Obama's election victories as "extremely close", "not a mandate", while ignoring the fact that the Bush2 victories were the ones they could have been describing. Plus the repubs also seem to think Benghazi was worse than the Iraq War (maybe they can count votes better than they can count casulties).

  • Peter C on January 29, 2013 11:17 AM:

    I hope you're right, @Ron. Immigration reform is desperately needed; our current treatment of immigrants is shameful and sickening. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, ... and we'll treat them as non-persons and blame all our problems on them".

    So, as Charlie Brown, I'm willing to try and kick that football. Still, I feel in my heart that Lucy will yank it away.

  • Mudge on January 29, 2013 11:47 AM:

    We'll see, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Republicans pull back and blame the Democrats for being inflexible. It's the old "we don't want immigration reform, but we need to find a way to blame the Democrats" technique.

    One must never assume Republicans do anything in good faith.

  • rrk1 on January 29, 2013 12:01 PM:

    The Rethugs learned nothing of substance in November, only that their marketing strategies have to change. Not the product. Just the marketing of it. The only way significant immigration reform will pass in the house is with a significant vote from the Democrats to overcome the Teahadists caucus. Boner may agree to that, but at a substantial price. A filibuster on some pretext will stop it in the Senate. McConnell, the turtle, is already fearful of a primary from the right next year, and there are enough nativists in the Senate to act on their own without any prompting.

    Therefore, Obama will have nothing to sign, is my prediction.

    Immigration reform will once again die a long lingering death with all parties seeking to cover their asses, and pointing the finger of responsibility elsewhere.

    Bottom line: Good for the Dems, bad for the Rethugs. And bad for all the people in limbo or illegal. That's how we govern these days.

  • Stetson Kennedy on January 29, 2013 12:16 PM:

    I could be wrong on the numbers, but it isn't it accurate to say that the Obama administration has deported more non-Americans in 4 years than GWB did in 8? If they haven't yet, they are on pace to.

    Not that I am proud of that fact, but maybe some intrepid reporter could, you know, point that out to Mr. King?

  • bigtuna on January 29, 2013 1:15 PM:

    Stetson - yep. unlike the mythical world that Steve King lives in, under the Obama administration, we have deported MORE people than before; used NEW tactics, in which local law-enforcement act as ICE agents; SPENT more [ie, the President has spent what congress has instructed}. Under the Obama admin, we have deported not only criminals, but people here who are illegal, but appear to have done nothing wrong. I think we deported something like 400,000 people last year. I don't have all the detailed budget numbers, but if you extrapolate it out, I think we'd have to spend something like 50 60 bn / yr at leas, to deport most people here illegally.

    So yet again a clear opportunity missed for the MSM to tell a congressman the following - I call bullshit on you, and yet again, they just repeat the lie.