The Republican Establishment Is Crazily Optimistic About the Immigration Bill

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour gives an interview ahead of the Republican National Convention on August 26, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The survival of the Senate’s immigration bill depends on the will of a supermajority, and the fate of a few Republican amendments. There are other details, but that’s the gist—the bill needs 70 votes to look unstoppable, and the impediments to the 70-vote margin would likely come from Republicans who don’t attach their preferred amendments.

The first faint peal of doom rang this morning, when the Senate got to vote on (whether to move ahead with a vote on—sorry, it’s the Senate) an amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley. The amendment was tabled with only 57 votes. All but the two most conservative Democrats, Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor, voted to table it. Every Republican member of the “Gang of Eight” voted to table it. No other Republican did. That’s quite a ways from the super-super-mega-majority Lindsey Graham dreams of.

And Republican immigration reformers outside Congress are trying not to get bogged down with the number. Jeb Bush and Haley Barbour arrived in D.C. today for a friendly interns-and-reporters-and-hacks roundtable at the Bipartisan Policy Center, talking in broad terms about the goodness of the bill.

When asked whether Jon Cornyn’s amendment, which would move up the border security component of the bill, was necessary, Bush waved off the question, preferring not to get into “the sausage.” Barbour chided the “elite media” for its focus on this: “If it doesn’t pass, the news media has already decided it’s the Republicans’ fault.”

But, well, wouldn’t it be? I asked Barbour whether Republicans would kill the bill if they didn’t attach their preferred enforcement provisions.

“Enforcement first?” asked Barbour, somewhat incredulously. He thought that skepticism sold short the people selling the current version of the bill. “They’re not talking about, ‘Do everything and let’s get around to enforcement later.’ Let us say we’re gonna do it, and let that be sufficient. We’re talking about a 10-year period of time, under the Gang of Eight bill, when people have to be here and meet all the requirements. During that 10-year period, you know, I think people are willing to start.”

Then Barbour mind-melded with the Cornyns, explaining why they’d want a stricter bill. “They’d have much more confidence if instead of just a plan to trigger green cards, they said before we take the next step, let’s get the border security program in place, operational. What’s the problem with that if you’ve got a 10-year window anyway? People are rightly concerned about enforcement, because they remember 1986.”

So then: What about the thinking that the bill was dead if it only got 61, 62 votes, lacking the key amendment. Would it be dead? “No,” predicted Barbour. “We started off with a Gang of Eight bill, and it’s gonna come out a little different. The House bill will be a little bit different. And it’ll be conferenced.” He went on to chide an NPR reporter for suggesting that the immigration bill’s failure would be blamed on Republicans, something the crazy biased media is only doing because Republicans are providing most of the “no” votes. (It was only Republicans who voted against starting debate this week.)

That same NPR reporter asked Barbour about the politics of the reform. Could Republicans win in 2014 if the reform failed? It was such an optimistic morning that even this question didn’t faze the Republican fixer.

“We have a majority in the House today,” he said. “We did the worst among Hispanic-American and Asian-American voters in the last election than we did in a long, long, time, and we kept the House.”