Following months of bipartisan negotiations, the U.S. Senate easily approved landmark immigration legislation with a 68-to-32 vote. In recognition of the seriousness with which Senate leaders took the issue, members took the unusual step of voting from their desks.
In the end, 14 Senate Republicans joined Senate Democrats in support of the proposal. Despite the so-called "border surge" and other provisions secured by GOP senators, 32 of the 46 Senate Republicans -- about 70% of the caucus -- still voted against the bill. (In 2006, 21 GOP senators voted for comprehensive immigration reform, suggesting, despite electoral pressures, the party is slowly becoming more hostile on the issue, not less.)
Immediately after the Gang of Eight's bill was approved, Dream Act kids in the Senate gallery could be heard chanting, "Yes we can."
The reform bill now heads to the House where its prospects are very much in doubt. While it's true that there are many House Republicans who privately hope the legislation passes -- even if they're not willing to vote for it -- it's also true that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn't leaving himself a lot of wiggle room.
With the Senate poised to end debate on and pass its own comprehensive immigration reform bill, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) significantly narrowed the legislative path toward making it law.At is weekly Capitol briefing Thursday, Boehner extended his requirement that immigration legislation enjoy the approval of at least half of his members to any final agreement between the House and the Senate, known as a conference report.
As of two weeks ago, Boehner had left the door wide open. "It's not about what I want. It's about what the House wants," the Speaker said of the bipartisan reform bill, adding, "We're gonna let the House work its will."
Boehner isn't saying that anymore. On the contrary, even if most of the House supports the Senate bill, he won't let the House "work its will"; he says he'll only pursue legislation most of his radicalized caucus is willing to tolerate.
Even on the conference report, Boehner is narrowing his focus. Last week, it seemed plausible to think House Republicans would pass a right-wing immigration alternative; the bill would go to conference; and the Speaker would bring the resulting compromise bill to the floor, letting the chips fall where they may.
But as of this morning, Boehner isn't even willing to do that -- if House Republicans don't like the Senate bill, it's dead, and if House Republicans don't like a conference bill, it's dead, too.
I've talked to several Capitol Hill sources today, each of whom have said roughly the same thing: "Don't take Boehner's words at face value. He changes his mind, he changes direction, and he backs down from threats."
This is, to be sure, a fair assessment of his last three years as Speaker. But it's also true that Boehner is leaving himself very little room to work on finding a solution, and he freely admits he has no intention of trying to lead anyone anywhere when it comes to immigration policy.
Looking ahead, the pressure on the House will be intense. We are, after all, talking about a popular bipartisan bill, which reduces the deficit, boosts the economy, improves the finances of the Social Security and Medicare systems, and help private-sector employers.
But all of this is counteracted by House Republicans' propensity for post-policy nihilism.
Either way, it's going to be one hell of a fight.