With Washington's crises having subsided, at least temporarily, attention now turns to what, if anything, Congress can accomplish in the coming months. For Democrats, it's an easy call: the Senate has already approved comprehensive immigration reform bill, which now enjoys the support of the American mainstream, business leaders, religious leaders, GOP strategists, and leaders from the Latino community.
For Republicans, it's far less clear. Last week, some notable GOP lawmakers said their government shutdown effectively killed the immigration bill's prospects. Yesterday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) echoed their arguments.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) said that President Obama's handling of the 16-day government shutdown has made the path to reforming the country's immigration system more difficult. Republicans' lack of trust for the president, Rubio said on "Fox News Sunday," makes the prospect of a final bill bleaker than ever. "The president has undermined this effort," he said. "I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago," he added.
In fairness to Rubio, it's worth emphasizing that he wasn't celebrating the proposal's difficulties -- he was a member of the Senate's Gang of Eight, which was responsible for reaching the compromise on immigration in the first place. The Florida Republican was one of the few far-right senators to actually vote for the bill.
What's harder to understand is the assertion that the president has imperiled the legislation by hurting Republicans' feelings when they shut down the government.
What is it, specifically, that Obama did over the last three weeks that left the GOP even more obstinate than before? Republicans demanded the president undermine the health care system, and he declined. They demanded concessions in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase, and he didn't go for that, either. So Republicans have decided to kill immigration reform? That makes sense, how?
We talked a bit last week about the need for GOP lawmakers, especially in the House, to plan ahead. They'll run for re-election next year, and if their sole accomplishment is a series of hostage crises in which Republicans threatened to hurt the nation on purpose, mainstream voters probably won't be impressed. But there's another angle to the same question.
A year from now, GOP incumbents will also have to explain why they once again killed a popular, bipartisan reform bill. They're apparently prepared to argue, "The immigration legislation might have passed, but Obama was mean to us when we shut down the government."
If they expect this to be persuasive, I'd suggest they reconsider.