Sometime today the Senate will probably vote for cloture on the omnibus immigration bill. It’ll go through with a supermajority—maybe short of the 70 votes desired by Chuck Schumer, but probably more than 65 votes. Coincidentally, this morning, Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam told reporters that the Senate bill was DOA.
“The House has no capacity to move that bill,” said Roskam, the GOP’s deputy whip. “It just won’t happen. It’s a pipe dream to think that bill will go to the floor.”
Roskam counted out the reasons. First, most Republicans preferred to split up immigration bills and pass an enforcement measure first, not to tie enforcement to legalization. Second, House Republicans didn’t care about the Senate anyway. “I remember when I was in the Illinois Senate,” he said. “Someone would say about a bill, ‘Well, it came out of the House 118-0.’ A bunch of blank-faced senators would say, ‘And?’ “
But the no-go reason Roskam kept returning to was all about electoral politics. “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?”
It’s a paradoxical theory with a little whiff of projection. Roskam (like many Republicans) was saying that a desperate White House would rather run against Republicans in 2014 on the immigration issue than pass a bill and remove the issue. With that in mind, Roskam was saying Republicans would probably kill the bill, thus keeping the issue alive. How far has Obama crawled inside their heads?
Pretty far. 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.”
The reporters in the room were skeptical. Roskam reminded them that the current GOP House was sent by an electorate that “had a very low view of the process by which the health care law was enacted.” But what were the most unpopular, sausage-making components of that bill? You had handouts to certain senators’ states, some of which were removed from the bill, and you had a 60-40 partisan Senate vote followed by a jam through the House. When the immigration bill escapes the Senate, it’ll have a small number of handouts (like the jobs program Bernie Sanders favored), but the support of maybe one in three Republicans. The political argument is much tougher to make than, say, an argument about why the Senate is focusing on this at all when unemployment is near 8 percent.