On immigration, the clock is ticking

People show their support during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., April 10, 2013.
People show their support during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., April 10, 2013.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), arguably his party's most enthusiastic proponent of immigration reform, told Greg Sargent last fall that the window for legislative success is narrow in 2014. "If we cannot get it done by early next year, then it's clearly dead," he said in November.
It's now mid-May, which no longer counts as "early" in the calendar year. So is the reform effort "clearly dead"? Probably, though Diaz-Balart has changed his calculus a bit, now arguing that the legislation would need to be done "by August."
It's hard to blame the Florida Republican for re-circling different dates on the calendar -- he's entirely sincere about his passion for the issue -- but the fact that deadlines keep coming and going help underscore the difficulty of getting the legislation done.
As of yesterday, President Obama has his own timeline in mind.

President Obama warned on Tuesday that the "narrow window" for passing immigration reform in 2014 is quickly closing and may not happen if Congress doesn't act soon. "So we've got maybe a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives," the president said during remarks to law enforcement officials Tuesday. "And your voices are going to be absolutely critical to that effort."

"The immigration system that we have right now makes it harder, not easier, for law enforcement agencies to do their jobs," he said. "It makes it harder for law enforcement to know when dangerous people cross our borders. It makes it harder for business owners who play by the rules to compete when they're undercut by those who would exploit workers in a shadow economy. And it makes it harder for law enforcement to do their jobs when large segments of the community are afraid to report crimes or serve as witnesses because they fear the consequences for themselves or their families."
This is compelling rhetoric, which has the added benefit of being true.
But when it comes to immigration, the driving question is not, "Will House Republicans complete the work by the deadline?" Rather, the question remains, "Will they even try?"
At this point, there's nothing -- there is no House bill, there are no high-profile talks underway in order to work towards a bill, there are no committee hearings underway considering the merits of a bill's provisions.
There's just a ticking clock and occasional rhetoric about how House GOP leaders might kinda sorta want to do something at some point.
The next question, of course, is what happens when the "window of two, three months" that the president referenced closes. Everyone involved can start to come to terms with the fact that the right has once again killed immigration reform -- until 2017 at the earliest -- and the White House can start to explore its back-up strategy in earnest.

On one level, Obama was simply acknowledging the reality of the Congressional calendar. But on another level, it seems clear he was tacitly referencing the fact that if Republicans don't act by the August recess, he'll almost certainly have to do something to ease deportations himself. After all, if Obama thinks reform is dead if it doesn't happen by August, that can only mean all the guns from the left will turn on him to act alone, right? [...] Whether or not Obama explicitly meant the two-to-three-months remark as a suggestion that he will act alone if Republicans don't, he was delivering them a wake-call: It's probably now or never.

The conventional wisdom says that if Obama starts using his executive-branch authority more forcefully, it will destroy the legislative prospects once and for all. But therein lies the point -- the president will only consider such a drastic move once it's overwhelmingly obvious that House Republicans will not act on this issue.
In other words, Obama can't kill something that's already dead.