Keeping the Pressure On Republicans To Act On Immigration

Bill Scher

When Speaker John Boehner said he would make any immigration reform bill adhere to the ridiculous “Hastert Rule,” barring any bill from the floor that doesn’t have the support of a majority of Republicans (aka, a minority of the House), it sounded like an excuse to kill any bill. Any bill backed by a majority of House Republicans presumably would be rejected by a majority of the Senate.

Not so fast.

House Republicans came out of their caucus meeting Wednesday estimating that half the caucus supports a pathway to legalization for the 11 million currently undocumented workers in America.

Now, “legalization” is a step short of “citizenship,” which the Senate bill promises. To deny any path to citizenship would perpetuate a two-tiered society. But those numbers still suggest there is more room to maneuver than has been presumed.

The fact is: when there’s a will, there’s a way. The ultimate unknown is does the House GOP have the will. But there’s other evidence that they do have the will (or will have the will).

Speaker Boehner has made it clear that inaction is not an option, lest the GOP take the full blame for destroying the hopes, dreams and needs of the Latino community.

Boehner is no arm-twister, but presumably the House can pass some pieces of immigration reform with mainly Republican votes — even if they only cover Republican-friendly areas like border security and employee verification, leaving out paths to citizenship and improving the flow of legal immigration.

That would at least set up a House-Senate conference where a broader bill can be negotiated, or — if the House remains uppity about large, comprehensive legislation — an agreement can be reached to pass several bills in quick succession.

That’s no small hurdle. And surely most House Republicans don’t need to cut that deal to keep their current seats in safe conservative districts. But they do have to worry about their long-term stability as a party if they burn this last bridge to the rapidly growing Latino community.

House Republicans need to feel that positive pressure from immigration advocates, so they recognize that the Latino community is watching intently, without stoking too fierce a backlash from the Tea Party right.

If political pressure is applied too crudely, a final bill would smack of political pandering and send the Tea Party over the edge. Yet it is incumbent to keep the issue alive in the media, to make it understood that the public expects action.

In other words, Republicans need to know that millions will pour into the streets if they kill the bill, but it might not be a good idea to take to the streets just yet.

Similarly, President Obama has to careful, as The New York Times notes today: ” trapped between the need to promote what could be a legacy piece of legislation and the reality that being out front might be counterproductive at best.”

Reportedly he is planning a conference call with small business owners so they will play a larger role prodding the House, and a series of interviews in Spanish-language media to help keep the Latino grassroots engaged.

The important thing is to make sure the issue doesn’t fade, so it won’t be an option for the House to punt. Once the House is face-to-face with the Senate, the momentum may be unstoppable.

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