Exactly one year ago yesterday, the Senate easily approved a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform package that would fix the nation’s broken status quo, boost the economy, and lower the deficit. The legislation was quickly endorsed by private-sector leaders, labor unions, faith-based leaders, law enforcement, and immigrant advocates.
President Obama marked the one-year anniversary of the Senate’s action by issuing a statement urging the Republican-led House to stop doing nothing. “Republicans in the House of Representatives have repeatedly failed to take action, seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform,” the president said, adding, “We have a chance to strengthen our country while upholding our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and I urge House Republicans to listen to the will of the American people and bring immigration reform to the House floor for a vote.”
Obama then followed up with a phone call to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who apparently wasn’t pleased.
Cantor issued a blistering statement afterward, criticizing Obama for calling him just after delivering what he called “a partisan statement” that indicated “no desire to work together” on immigration, a top priority for Obama that House Republicans have largely ignored.“After five years, President Obama still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress to get things done,” Cantor said in the statement. “You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue. I told the president the same thing I told him the last time we spoke. House Republicans do not support Senate Democrats’ immigration bill and amnesty efforts, and it will not be considered in the House.”
For their part, White House officials seemed puzzled by Cantor’s outrage, saying the president and the Republican leader had a “pleasant call” in which Obama, among other things, extended Passover wishes to Cantor.
So what’s with the Majority Leader’s indignation? It appears Cantor hopes to kill immigration reform without actually getting blamed for killing immigration reform. Indeed, realizing the political risks associated with GOP lawmakers killing yet another popular, bipartisan bill, the Virginia Republican apparently hopes he can turn this around – Cantor wants to blame the death of reform on the president trying to pass reform over Cantor’s objections.
In other words, the Majority Leader has decided to play the blame game. Unfortunately for him and his party, he’s not playing it especially well.
Some of these policy debates can get complicated, but this one is surprisingly simple. House Republicans don’t want to vote on the popular, bipartisan immigration plan. House Republicans don’t want to vote on their own immigration ideas, either. House Republicans also aren’t open to legislative negotiations with House Democrats, Senate Democrats, or the White House.
House Republicans have made a series of demands as part of the immigration-reform process, which have been met, but instead of taking “yes” for an answer, GOP leaders still won’t consider action.
So how on Earth does Cantor expect to blame the president? Looking at the Majority Leader’s statement, note that he doesn’t suggest anything Obama said yesterday was factually incorrect, only that the president hurt Cantor’s feelings by being “partisan.”
Yes, House Republicans plan to go into the 2014 midterm elections by arguing that the demise of immigration reform can be attributed to one thing: Obama’s a big meanie.
Under the circumstances, it’s become increasingly difficult to take Cantor’s rhetoric on the issue seriously, but there are also policy implications to consider. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told Greg Sargent yesterday, “I’m convinced that if we don’t get it done by the August break, the president, who is feeling a lot of pressure from having not done anything on immigration reform, will feel that he has to act through executive action.”
In other words, if House Republicans refuse to act, the White House may have no choice but to do what it can unilaterally. Indeed, Diaz-Balart added that Obama would have all the cover he needs to act on his own: “[Congressional failure] would give every excuse for the president to move forward on dealing with the undocumented while blaming Republicans for Congress’ inaction.”