House Speaker John Boehner has hired a high-profile immigration adviser, his office announced Tuesday, a surprising move that pro-reform and anti-reform advocates alike interpreted as a step toward reform. Becky Tallent, an immigration policy wonk, is a well-known figure among immigration advocates, having helped spearhead Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform under President George W. Bush. This year, she took a prominent role in the debate as director of immigration policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center, where she organized a team of pro-immigration Republicans and Democrats, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in an effort to craft a workable policy proposal.
At a certain level, paying attention to congressional staffing moves is probably the ultimate in inside baseball -- it's one thing to pay attention to developments on Capitol Hill, but following staffing changes is a granular detail reserved for true junkies, right?
Well, maybe. Once in a while, though, who gets hired for which jobs carries a much broader significance, letting us know what's to come.
Take immigration reform, for example. A few weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) effectively killed a comprehensive solution, telling reporters, "We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill."
And yet, behind the scenes, the Speaker makes moves that suggest the door is still ajar. Benjy Sarlin reported yesterday:
To be sure, a new policy aide does not a position make, and the Speaker hasn't played a constructive role on immigration all year. But it's hardly unreasonable to think Boehner wouldn't bother hiring Tallent if he intended to let immigration reform wither on the vine in 2014.
Indeed, as Sarlin added, far-right immigration opponents are well aware of Tallent's work and are not at all pleased with the Speaker's choice in aides: Mark Krikorian of the hardline Center for Immigration Studies derided Tallent as "McCain's amnesty captain" on Twitter and warned Boehner was signaling his intention to push for reform.
Former McCain aide and reform proponent Ana Navarro added, "You don't hire Becky Tallent if what you want is someone to twiddle her thumbs and just buy you time. You hire Becky to help craft solutions and turn them into law."
I can appreciate why the on-again, off-again nature of the debate can grow tiresome. Just when I've convinced myself reform is dead, there's a development that leads me to believe the opposite, which is soon followed by some other news that makes it seem as if it's hopeless again.
That said, some fundamental truths remain unchanged: Republican leaders know immigration reform is popular, killing a bipartisan bill would be dangerous, their party has literally no accomplishments to run on in 2014, and will struggle badly to come up with an excuse for rejecting a reform solution that lowers the deficit, boosts the economy, strengthens border security, would help millions of families, and has been endorsed by business leaders, religious leaders, GOP strategists, and leaders from the Latino community.
I have a hunch Boehner made all this clear to Becky Tallent. It's probably has quite a bit to do with why she took the job.