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February 03, 2014 9:43 AM Immigration Rope-a-Dope

By Ed Kilgore

Want to know how bad the mistrust has gotten within the ranks of the GOP on immigration policy? When House GOP (sorta kinda) proponents of comprehensive immigration reform downplay their odds of success, it’s widely perceived as a trap. Here’s Byron York of the Washington Examiner channeling the fear and hostility:

“The best way to pass a bill is to tell people a bill is unlikely to pass,” says one Hill aide closely involved in the issue. “What if [Paul] Ryan had gone on TV and said, ‘Read my lips, we’re going to pass a bill’? Can you imagine how much more difficult it would be is for Republicans when they go home to town halls?”

The aide recalls how Senate GOP Gang of Eight leader Marco Rubio often stressed the downside of his bill’s chances. Recalling a closed-door meeting in which Rubio discussed the bill with skeptical colleagues, the aide remembers, “Rubio said, ‘Look, there’s no way the bill will pass as it is right now. The Democrats are going to lose about five of their own, and it just won’t pass.’ Rubio would go on Hannity and say the same thing — Oh, we’ve got so much work to do, we don’t have the votes.”
One result of that kind of talk was that conservatives who opposed reform didn’t see an active threat until the Gang of Eight bill was on the verge of passage. “The phone lines in Congress didn’t melt down until after Corker-Hoeven [the amendment that assured enough Republican support for passage], and everybody realized the countdown had begun,” the aide says.
Now, some Hill conservatives — maybe those of a particularly suspicious bent of mind — see something similar beginning. “When Ryan says things like it’s going to be tough to pass, I don’t see that as meaning Ryan and the $10 billion coalition that is trying to pass the bill is calling things off,” says the aide. “I think it’s saying to conservatives to leave us alone while we work on it.”

Kind of creates a no-win situation for the House GOP leadership, doesn’t it? Talk up the odds of passing a bill (which would vastly boost the spirits of reform proponents and Democrats) are you are an arrogant Establishment RINO who craves elite approbation and not-so-secretly despises “the base.” Talk it down and you are simply trying to pull a fast one on the folks. For all the endless and interminable and redundant Beltway talk of the taming of the Tea Party and the growing self-confidence of the Establishment, conservative activists don’t trust their party’s leaders—and keep in mind we are talking about former right-wing heroes Ryan and Eric Cantor—as far as they can throw them. This isn’t a particularly good sign for incredibly complex path to the passage of incredibly complex immigration reform legislation. But hey, maybe I, too, am part of the conspiracy that is lulling conservatives to sleep.

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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