Political Animal


April 18, 2013 12:48 PM Next Up: The Gauntlet Facing Immigration Reform

By Ed Kilgore

So like a frivolous young person moving quickly from one love interest to another, the political chattering class can be expected to get over recriminations about gun legislation in a few days and begin focusing on the relentless power of bipartisanship to achieve a breakthrough on immigration reform.

I sincerely hope this optimism is justified, but don’t quite buy it yet. The very same dynamics that doomed Manchin-Toomey could most definitely bury the fragile Gang of Eight bill: a relentless conservative drive to pull legislation out of the bipartisan “sweet spot” it tentatively occupies, using leverage from the certainty of obstruction and delay in the House to lure Senate Republicans into a growing minority of “principled” dissenters aiming at the 41 votes necessary to bring the whole thing crashing down.

Interestingly enough, a Raju/Sherman piece at Politico today ostensibly trumpeting the confident and proactive efforts of Republican “reformers” to head off any conservative campaign to sidetrack the Gang of Eight also documents the rocky road ahead:

House Republicans, like Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, were already bashing the bill, and a Senate GOP leader, John Cornyn, was wary about the border security provisions in the proposal. A prospective 2016 presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, was preparing to offer amendments designed to pull the bill to the right….
“It’s worse than we thought,” said Smith, who formerly chaired the Judiciary Committee. He added: “It’s amnesty on a massive scale, greater than we anticipated,” Smith said. “And we took their word that the border was going to be secured before the other reforms were implemented and that’s not the case.”
“As smart as these eight senators are, they are not from Texas,” Cornyn said.
Added Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.): “We’ve seen this movie before — 27 years ago, remember?”

Shelby, of course, is alluding to a “scandal” that most people outside conservative activist circles are at best dimly aware of: the 1986 immigration law that sold “amnesty” under the false flag of reform.

The Gang of Eight’s plan to strike quickly before the inevitable opposition can “mobilize” itself will run headlong into conservative demands—often echoed by the key gang member Marco Rubio—to insure a slow and “transparent” process to ensure that people don’t get tricked like they allegedly were in 1986.

It often seems that a lot of the optimism about getting the bill quickly through the Senate and eventually through the House depends on an assumption that the entire Republican Party has a vested interest in Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions. But he’s hardly the only potential presidential candidate in play for 2016, and lest we forget, the entire 2012 Republican presidential field demonized “amnesty” to the point where poor bumbling Rick Perry got fatally torched for the sin of even expressing sympathy for “illegal immigrants” or their children.

A sign of that enduring dynamic emerged from the state that stands athwart Rubio’s (and everyone else’s) path to the White House. The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition didn’t get much media attention for its annual conference on Monday, mainly because headliner Rick Santorum canceled at the last minute due to health issues. But according to The Iowa Republican’s Kevin Hall, master of ceremonies Gopal Krishna (affiliated with the Iowa Christian Alliance, the successor organization to the Christian Coalition) administered a pledge to the audience that seemed to attract near-universal assent:

1. All candidates should support life to natural death.
2. All candidates should support traditional marriage between one-man and one-woman.
3. All candidates should support the Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms.
4. All candidates should forget all types of amnesty and support securing our borders.
5. The establishment should not take us for granted, instead of giving us candidates who do not support our values.

Note items #4 and #5.

This is significant not just because 2016 Republican candidates for president will soon be avidly pursuing the support of the activists at this event, but because it calls into question the common assumption that the Christian Right is a natural source of support for comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, a Politico article in February touted the Faith & Freedom Coalition (and its founder, Ralph Reed) as the ace-in-the-hole for immigration reformers because of its expressed interest in reform legislation (not, of course, including “amnesty,” which is the key issue for conservatives).

So don’t bet the farm on the inevitability of immigration reform just yet. And remember how confidently the same people now promoting the genius of the Gang of Eight were making the same noises about Manchin-Toomey just a few days ago.

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.


  • Peter C on April 18, 2013 12:53 PM:

    I predict that it, too, will be the victim of a filibuster. Either that or it will die of neglect in the House.

    Bottom Line: We may not have good things until we elect a Democratic congress; Republicans will prevent them from happening, just like background checks.

  • c u n d gulag on April 18, 2013 1:18 PM:

    Why is it that I suppose Conservatives think "amnesty" means anything that doesn't have the be*ners and w*tbacks as de facto indentured servants to their white betters?

    Slightly OT - how ironic would it be if the Republican Party DID split up over immigration, but the Democrats couldn't take advantage because we, their base, are angy or disillusioned because of Social Security, and don't come out to vote in 2014 or 2016?

    And yes, for even mentioning that, I AM an @$$hole.

  • rrk1 on April 18, 2013 2:06 PM:

    Amnesty is just the excuse de jour. Immigration reform is only going to go in the wrong direction if anything at all happens. As with gun control. This Congress isn't going to do anything about solving any of our problems. It's still about hating that 'nigger' in the White House, and taking over the government.

    It's voter suppression tactics and gerrymandering that we must stop.

    The Democrats are as large a problem, not because they expect Obama to be a lefty president, which he certainly isn't, but because they allow Harry Reid to be spineless in the fact of unprecedented and mindless obstructionism. Unless and until the back of the filibuster is broken Democrats will look weak, the turnout in 2014 may be low, and the media's misleading and disheartening description of as much as a 59-41 Senate vote as the "Today the Senate defeated blah, blah, blah" will continue.

  • Mimikatz on April 18, 2013 2:34 PM:

    Of course we need immigration reform, but it is hard to see this fight hurting anyone (besides immigrants, not inconsequential) but the GOP. The GOP created the climate of fear, nourished these resentments and fosters the blockages that make reform impossible. Other than the immigrants themselves, lack of reform will hurt high tech businesses that depend on near-indentured H1B visa cheap labor, restaurants, meat packing, and agriculture who also depend on cheap immigrant labor. These are largely GOP allies. Of course demonizing immigrants will further drive non-whites away from the GOP.

    None of ourproblems are going away, and some like climate change are going to get a whole lot worse. At some point the inability of the GOP to deliver for anyone but banksters and gun manufacturers might cause some change in voting patterns. It is hard to have MUVH optimism, though. The Congress is full of very small people who mostly represent gophers and prairie dogs and armadillos.

  • JR on April 18, 2013 4:20 PM:

    How could anything be bad that happened under St. Ronald of Reagan?

  • Brett on April 18, 2013 5:08 PM:

    The perverse thing about IRCA was that they did amp up border enforcement, but only in particular areas like the San-Diego/Tijuana border stretch. Meanwhile, forgetting that the vast majority of illegal immigrants who came to the country came seasonally, they clamped down hard enough so that it was now too expensive to do that, so most illegal immigrants began planning to stay indefinitely (or at least for a much longer period).

  • Anil Petra on April 18, 2013 6:34 PM:

    In the light of Boston and the history of terrorism coming from abroad, it's time to seal the borders tight. If you want in, apply and stand in line, it's the law.

    Any other position clearly enables the terrorists.

  • Robin Redbreast on April 18, 2013 8:53 PM:

    There's nothing more anti-progressive than flooding this country with low-wage illegals, which undercuts blacks, poor working women, and the legal immigrants already here. That's why the great Cesar Chavez (who founded the United Farm Workers) opposed illegal immigration -- because he knew it was bad for his people.

    And when you look back at the amnesty supporters in the 2007 Senate fight, you find that great progressive George Bush, plus John McCain and his stooge Lindsay Graham, John Kyl (the Chickenpluckers Cartel apparently bought the whole Arizona delegation), Trent Lott and the like, as well as Harry Reid representing the high-minded Las Vegas hotel owners, and naturally the Marie Antoinette wing of the Senate Democrats (DiFi and her zillionaire husband Dick Blum, zillionaire Nancy Pelosi and spouse, and, inevitably, the late Ted Kennedy). It's just so hard to get cheap help these days, isn't it...

    The real progressives were on the other side, people like Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Bernie Sanders (Soc-VT).

  • smartalek on April 19, 2013 3:09 AM:

    And if, as is entirely possible, the perpetrators of the Marathon terror attack turn out to be homegrown rightwing sickos, will Anil Petra be back to accept the same collective responsibility for same that they so blithely and (for the moment) baselessly throw at "terrorism... from abroad," and at everyone who doesn't support a Berlin-Wall approach to US borders?
    Here's the safest bet on the planet:
    Of course not.
    Publican punks like Petra never do.
    Pure and unadulterated hypocrisy personified, leavened only by a modicum of irrationality, a worldview defined by credulous kowtowing to tribal authoritarianism, and projection, where normal, healthy humans keep their self-awareness and humility.