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June 27, 2013 6:02 PM The Corrupt Bargain of 2013

By Ed Kilgore

What with Rand Paul voting against the Gang of Eight immigration bill, and Ted Cruz voting “Hell No!” and Marco Rubio totally Ganged-Up, Greg Sargent asks an interesting question: What will Paul Ryan do?

Ryan, as you may recall from the days when the Beltway CW held that comprehensive immigration reform was on an irresistible roll, made some positive noises about bipartisan steps towards conditional citizenship. That was interesting since Ryan was fresh from a presidential campaign as the running-mate of Mr. Deport Yourself.

He hadn’t actually talked much about the subject until yesterday, when he told Sean Hannity the House would under no circumstances take up the Senate bill (probably the only practical way for a bill to be enacted), and mumbled about the need for “real triggers.” So Sargent asks:

If by “real triggers” Ryan means something like what was in the Cornyn amendment, that is a nonstarter for Dems, since those are all about nixing citizenship. So at some point, Ryan is going to have to take a stand on behalf of a real path to citizenship without the hard triggers that are certain to sink reform’s hopes, and accept the need for Republicans to find a way to embrace something that looks like the Senate bill. Or he’ll be a leading member of the crew that will take all the blame for sinking a historic opportunity - after it passed the Senate by a wide margin — to finally achieve a path to citizenship for millions and dramatically increased border security. How would that work out for anyone who is eying the 2016 general election electorate?

Now I continue to doubt that any Republicans is going to be seriously “eying” the 2016 electorate until they figure out how to get the nomination. But let’s say Ryan indeed wants to run for president. What sort of scenario on immigration reform would best serve him?

I’d say it’s pretty obvious: making positive rhetorical noises about a path to citizenship without becoming complicit in, as Greg accurately says, the only actual way to create one in the near term: allowing a House vote on the Senate bill or something very much like it.
Whatever you think about what House Republicans privately want to happen, from the point of view of a majority of the people who are going to vote in early-state GOP caucuses and primaries in 2016, the let’s-take-a-dive scenario has every prospect of creating the biggest “sell-out” furor since the Adams-Clay Corrupt Bargain of 1824. I just don’t see how Ryan would even dare risk that possibility.

Marco Rubio, of course, faces the same problem even more squarely. He’s eternally identified now with the Gang of Eight legislation. What works best for him? Promoting some devious deal where congressional Democrats enact “his” bill with the vast majority of Republicans opposed (remember: less than a third of Senate Republicans are supporting the bill, and then hoping conservatives forgive him by 2016? Or watching it all fall apart in the House and blaming Democrats for an insufficient willingness to compromise? The answer seems obvious to me.

Maybe I am overestimating the toxic nature of “amnesty” to Iowa Caucus-goers, or overestimating the important of Iowa in the nominating process (though the Gang of Eight bill isn’t terribly popular anywhere among conservative activists). After all, Mitt Romney did surprise me by overcoming RomneyCare in 2012 (though it took the implosion of his only two electable rivals, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry).

Still, if Ryan and Rubio really do want to run for president in 2016, it’s unlikely they are going to start running by taking a bullet for the team over immigration. That course of action might earn them the enduring gratitude of party strategists and business lobbyists. But it wouldn’t buy any love in the Pizza Ranches of northwest Iowa.

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.

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