When the immigration debate turns farcical

Immigration reform supporters cheer at a rally on the National Mall in Washington, Oct. 8, 2013.
Immigration reform supporters cheer at a rally on the National Mall in Washington, Oct. 8, 2013.
Photo by GABRIELLA DEMCZUK/The New York Times/Redux
As the debate over immigration reform has unfolded, Republicans have made a series of demands – increased enforcement, bipartisan talks, piecemeal legislating, etc. – all of which Democrats have accepted. Yesterday, however, some GOP officials came up with new conditions that took the process to silly depths.
 
To be sure, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seemed to throw the ultimate curveball last week, saying immigration reform cannot pass so long as Republicans distrust President Obama to follow federal law. But Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) dealt with this, too, suggesting a delay in implementing the law until 2017 – when there will be a new president in the Oval Office.
 
In an amusing twist, one notable House Republican told Benjy Sarlin yesterday why that may not be good enough, either.
…Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, an influential voice in conservative policy circles, raised a different problem with the Schumer proposal to msnbc: The party’s concerns might not end with Obama.
 
“I don’t think that’s going to happen in our conference,” he said. “It’s not just that there’s a strong distrust of the president’s ability to function in good faith on this issue in light of what happened, but we don’t know who’s going to be president in 2017.”
Jordan may not have intended this to be funny, but it’s comedic nevertheless. The Ohio congressman effectively argued that House Republicans aren’t willing to leave enforcement in the hands of the next president because they may not like him or her, either.
 
By this reasoning, the House would presumably only pass immigration reform if Democrats could assure GOP lawmakers that a conservative Republican would be inaugurated in January 2017.
 
And if that weren’t enough, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) went a little further, still.
 
The Arizona congressman presented Sarlin with an alternative approach to immigration reform that he could live with.
“I understand why a lot of folks are concerned and it’s strictly on the border enforcement and interior enforcement, but we should be passing legislation based on what’s right for the country not who the current actors are, who’s in office,” [Salmon] said.
 
His suggestion: Obama should request a border security bill alone from Congress, implement it this year, then come back and ask for reform.
Consider this in the larger context. When Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans sat down for talks on immigration policy, they built on a compromise framework: Democrats want a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States; Republicans want increased border security. Broadly speaking, both sides could get what they want if they packaged the goals in a comprehensive agreement.
 
That, in turn, is exactly what senators did – they wrote and passed a comprehensive bill that included both sides’ goals, while getting support from stakeholders like business leaders, labor unions, immigrant advocates, and the religious community.
 
House Republicans have decided to kill that popular, bipartisan agreement without so much as a floor vote. What should they replace it with? According to Arizona’s Salmon, the ideal alternative is one in which Democrats give Republicans exactly what Republicans want, in exchange for nothing. If Dems agree, Republicans might consider Democratic goals a couple of years down the road.
 
It’s a striking position to take because it’s the ultimate in bad-faith negotiations. Boehner’s habit of constantly moving the goalposts is unfortunate, but Matt Salmon’s suggestion is that Republicans get 100% of what they want, while Democrats get 0% of what they want.
 
In the meantime, anyone interested in the overall trajectory of the policy debate should note that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) thinks Boehner’s position is the right one.
 

Immigration Reform

When the immigration debate turns farcical