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The imaginary White House immigration ruse

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told Dave Weigel yesterday one of the main reasons and he and his House Republican colleagues will not support comprehensive
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told Dave Weigel yesterday one of the main reasons and he and his House Republican colleagues will not support comprehensive immigration reform.

"If you're the White House right now," he theorized, "and you have a signature law -- that is, Obamacare -- that is completely a legacy issue for the president, and it's looking like implementation is going to be a disaster, and if you're on your heels in terms of these scandals, and you're flummoxed by the NSA, there's one issue out there that's good for the White House. That's immigration. The question is: How much energy does the White House actually put into getting the legislation, or do they want to keep the issue for 2014?"

I hear this quite a bit from the right. Democrats say they want to pass reform legislation, the argument goes, but it's a sham. What those rascally Democrats really want, conservatives argue, is for immigration reform to fail so Democrats can use the issue against the GOP in the 2014 midterms and beyond.

And every time I hear this, I'm convinced our public discourse has slipped a little deeper into madness.

Look, this isn't complicated: Democrats want to pass immigration reform. President Obama wants to pass immigration reform. When the reform bill reached the Senate floor yesterday, it received 100% support from Democratic senators, and support is expected to be at a similar level among House Dems. If the party were engaged in some elaborate ruse, they've apparently managed to fool everyone, including themselves.

In fact, I'd love to hear Roskam and others who share his ideology explain the electoral rationale behind their strategy. He seems to be arguing, "Democrats want immigration reform to fail so they can use it against us, therefore, we should make sure reform fails so that they can use it against us. That'll show 'em!"

If Roskam and his like-minded allies really believe their own rhetoric, wouldn't they want to pass a reform bill, take the issue off the table, and undermine Democratic efforts to beat them over the head with the issue?

As for the notion that the president is keeping a low profile on immigration, Roskam thinks it's part of a fiendish plan. In reality, Obama is giving lawmakers space because proponents in both parties asked him, too -- the more the president is directly associated with the legislation, the harder it is to earn support from Republicans who are reflexively against anything and everything Obama is for.

Behind the scenes, however, the White House is heavily invested in helping reform succeed -- it's not because the president's team secretly wants it to fail, delusional arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.

As for the policy approach Roskam would prefer, Weigel's report added:

Roskam insisted again and again that "up until now, the immigration issue has been a powerful political issue for the White House," and that Team Obama likely wouldn't be "willing to give that up in 2014 in order to have a bill." But "if they're willing to get a remedy, that suggests we go to the consensus. The consensus is on a border that's secure."

First, the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate includes so much border security one of its conservative Republican supporters characterized it as "almost overkill."

Second, Roskam is describing a fascinating scenario. The point of comprehensive reform is that the two sides effectively accept the others' condition -- Dems get a pathway to citizenship; the GOP gets increased border security.

Roskam's argument is amazing: as soon as Democrats agree to give Republicans what they want, in exchange for nothing, then there will be a "consensus" bill.

And if Dems don't agree to this, it'll prove once and for all that they're secretly against immigration reform.

And to think some policymakers find it difficult to negotiate with the House GOP....