Between the Same Old Rock and the Same Old Hard Place

Okay, fine, there will be no immigration reform this year, or next, or maybe in a generation, comprehensive or in an accumulated series of nice little nonthreatening one-by-one baby steps. The Republicans will have none of it. The only problem they now face is explaining this to Hispanic voters, who are a bit tired of being insulted, existentially, and to the business community that really does want a new source of eager and cheap and thoroughly legal labor. There are also a lot of Anglos and Asians and maybe even African-Americans who also would like the Republicans to explain what the problem is here. If your party just doesn’t like certain kinds of people, and has a serious problem with women who aren’t quiet and submissive, and gays who refuse to remain invisible or pretend to be straight, who’s next on your list? No one wants to be next on that dreaded list of those who aren’t Real Americans™ – and the Jewish community is especially sensitive to these things. Yes, the Republicans are virulently pro-Israel, often to the point of being anti-American about it, but a lot of that is because they see Israel as Jesus Land, and when He returns the Jews there had better convert or they’re going straight to hell. It’s a worry which Stephen Colbert once parodied this way – “And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion. Be you Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim, I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”

Immigration reform is kind of like that. There are infinite paths to being a white Anglo-Saxon protestant, or something – but the party knows that’s an impossible contention, and leads to this sort of thing:

Former Florida Rep. Ana Rivas Logan announced her plans to leave the GOP and register as a Democrat, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“The GOP of today is not the party I joined,” she said. “It’s not the party of my parents. It’s a party that has been radicalized and held hostage by a group of extremists.”…

Logan explained her reasons for leaving the GOP, calling it “a party that attacks women and minorities – and one that asked me, and my former Hispanic Republican colleagues in the Florida legislature, to turn on their own people by supporting extreme anti-immigrant policies.”

There’s a lot of that going on, as Pablo Pantoja, the former State Director of Florida Hispanic Outreach, for the Republican National Committee itself, also joined the Democratic Party in May – so there’s trouble brewing. There are more and more Hispanic voters all the time, and last time around Mitt Romney got almost none of them to vote for him, and the same thing happens down-ticket too. Throwing away those Hispanic votes – and the votes of those who worry that they might be next – would mean the end of the Republican Party. You can’t win state-wide senate seats and national elections with the votes of six angry very old white men listening to Rush Limbaugh in a badly air-conditioned nursing home in Biloxi. Passing any kind of immigration reform would be a step in the right direction, a way for the party to say to Hispanic voters that the party doesn’t totally despise “you people” quite as much as “you people” think. The message would be that the party would like to make your life here as difficult as possible, but not quite impossible, if you behave – and, by the way, many like you will never be full citizens, for as long as they live, nor will their children, or their children’s children. It would be legalization without citizenship for them, an entirely new and rather unusual and ambiguous status. That might create an administrative nightmare, but we don’t totally despise your kind, really. That should count for something.

Republicans know that’s not going to fly, as it’s so transparently cynical, but there are still enough angry white folks in their party that there’s no chance in hell of passing immigration reform, comprehensive or piecemeal. The party base would rebel, or walk away, so this is a classic case of being caught between a rock and a hard place, even if that expression is a bit odd. The only thing to do is find a way to escape this trap, and John Boehner and nearly every other Republican has found the way out of the trap. It’s Obama’s fault. They would gladly pass immigration reform legislation tomorrow, or today, all of it – they’d really love to – but Obama is the problem. That must be it.

Follow closely. You see, in that State of the Union thing, Obama said that since Congress has done next to nothing on immigration reform, or much of anything else, for almost six years now, he’d do what he could on his own through executive orders and recess appointments and whatnot. It might not be much, but it would be something – and he never should have said that. Republicans pounced. The new line is that Obama thinks he can ignore the law, or override any law, through his administrative powers spelled out in the Constitution, and that means Obama cannot be trusted to enforce the law, on much of anything. It’s simple. All the Republicans are asking Hispanics to do – and also the worriers, and gays, and the unemployed who have been abandoned – is follow the logic. Why pass any law, or pass anything at all, even if it’s a resolution declaring National Puppy Day, if Obama will just do what he wants, not enforcing anything? They’d love to do all sorts of good things for the country – really, they would – but what would be the point?

Yes, presidents have issued executive orders before – FDR set a record, to get his New Deal started, and George Bush signed a ton of them, including one that said the Geneva Conventions would be seen a new way and what was state torture, before, wasn’t really torture now. Yes, Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any President since Grover Cleveland – but this is different you see. This is uppity. Black folks are like that. They don’t know their place. You know how they are. We should have never elected one of “those people” president. That’s the problem.

No, wait, there not saying that, they’re saying this:

At his weekly press conference Thursday, John Boehner threw cold water on the idea of immigration reform happening this year. “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” Boehner said. “And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

That frank assessment came roughly a week after House Republicans put out a series of principles on immigration reform that included a pathway to legal status, an announcement that made the possibility of genuine immigration reform seem more likely than it had previously been.

So, what gives? How is Boehner part of touting a series of principles likely to win widespread bipartisan support one week and then insisting that the chances of any legislation passing are extremely small the next?

According to a senior Boehner ally, it’s all about trust. As in, House Republicans don’t trust President Obama to implement the border enforcement principles that they view as sine qua non for any other reforms of the country’s immigration system. “They fear the president is not willing to enforce the law,” the source said.

So it’s not racial. They just don’t trust the guy. They say no one does. Make of that what you will. Maybe it’s because he’s skinny, but he shouldn’t be doing what every other president has done, as allowed. It shouldn’t be allowed him.

The Washington Post’s Chirs Cillizza thinks this is pretty clever:

Making President Obama the issue is never a bad thing for a Republican Speaker who wants to keep his job. If the narrow window to pass immigration reform closes entirely sometime between now and November, Boehner has now created a perfect political scapegoat on which to blame things. Look, President Obama never was willing to build the relationships with my members I told him he needed to, Boehner will now be able to tell both his conference and conservative Republican activists across the country. And, those folks are already more than willing to believe that narrative.

Will anyone else believe that narrative? That avoids the rock, the adamant xenophobic base of the party, appalled by “the other” and feeling besieged by a changing world around them, but doesn’t avoid the hard place, the demographics that have white folks in America being the minority in a decade or two, or sooner.

This solves nothing, but on the other hand, the conservative blogger Allahpundit thinks this may actually work out:

Here’s the question: If he could get more of a Republican buy-in next year, why shouldn’t he wait? Matt Lewis argued the other day that amnesty opponents will always gin up some sort of excuse related to the timing to keep kicking the immigration-reform can down the road, but I simply can’t believe party leaders and their business backers will send the GOP nominee into battle in 2016 without arming him with some sort of amnesty to show Latino voters. It might be a limited one like DREAM, but something’s going to happen. Even Raul Labrador, who said this week that pushing immigration now could cost Boehner his gavel, says immigration is “one of the first things we should do” in 2015 once it controls the Senate again.

In short, relax, they’ll get to it next year, because they have to, but Greg Sargent isn’t so sure of that:

There’s just no reason to assume reform will be any easier for Republicans next year than it is right now, and there are multiple scenarios in which it could be harder next year. And if it doesn’t get done in 2015, Republicans will be heading into the next presidential election having failed to embrace reform yet again – after yet another contentious debate marked by who knows what sort of rhetoric – making relations with Latinos still worse, as demographic reality marches on.

At Time’s Swampland, Jay Newton-Small adds this:

Most Republicans want to wait to pass immigration reform until next year, after the midterm elections. The problem with that scenario is that the 2016 presidential race will heat up the minute the midterms are over. And while Democrats have every incentive to push for a deal now, they could lose a powerful wedge issue at the polls in 2016 if they pass a deal next year. Sure, Obama probably would like to see something get done to burnish his legacy. But Democrats may argue that they could get a better deal in 2017, especially if they lose the Senate in November.

These things get complicated, but Daniel Larison sees nothing but pain for the Republicans:

Republicans stand to gain nothing if they help Obama achieve one of his legislative goals. Meanwhile, their “compromise” position of favoring legalization without citizenship so reeks of cynicism that it won’t be appealing to anyone outside the party. Indeed, favoring legalization without the possibility of citizenship is in some respects the most insulting position one can take, since it provides amnesty for those here illegally while keeping them as a non-citizen underclass that will continue to compete with American labor.

Rock, meet Hard Place, or now, Republicans, meet Chuck Schumer:

Chuck Schumer is trying to call John Boehner’s bluff over immigration reform – but in a way that should, in theory, help Boehner bring along his antsy conservative allies.

Appearing on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, floated a new proposal designed to win Republican support for an immigration bill – a proposal designed specifically to address concerns that Boehner raised last week, when the Speaker essentially declared that efforts to pass reform were at an impasse. At a press conference, Boehner indicated that his fellow House Republicans won’t support an immigration bill because they don’t trust President Obama to enforce it. Fine, Schumer said on Sunday – let’s postpone the new law’s effective date until 2017, when Obama isn’t president anymore.

Oh crap, now Boehner and the rest are stuck. That removes the objection. Put up or shut up. You say you want to pass immigration reform, but… Well, let’s remove the “but” and see if you dare do it, given your base.

Even on the right, Jonathan Tobin sees that the game is up:

Will it succeed? Of course not! Obama’s lawless approach to governance is a legitimate issue. But by giving in to Republicans on this point and putting off implementation of the law until after Obama leaves the White House, all Schumer has done is to expose something that was already obvious: Republicans won’t vote for an immigration reform bill under virtually any circumstances.

They’ve been fully exposed, and that Schumer guy is a real pain:

Many on the right think what happened in the Senate on immigration last year is that the clever Schumer hoodwinked Senate Republicans like Marco Rubio. The conservative distrust of Schumer is so intense that they think any accommodation on his part is all part of a dastardly scheme concocted to embarrass the GOP and/or to further the liberal agenda. But the history of this legislation proves that Schumer’s genius is not so much a matter of his outfoxing the Republicans as it is a matter of his concessions successfully illustrating the intransigence of some conservatives on this issue.

What Schumer has done on immigration is to transform the liberal position from one in which Democrats demanded a bill that was solely focused on easing entry in the country and a path to citizenship for illegals into one that poured massive resources into border security and charted a path to legalization for scofflaws that was both lengthy and draconian. In the last month, as House Republicans began talking about a package that would separate these two elements, Schumer and the White House backed down on the citizenship track and indicated they would settle for legalization. Now he has further sweetened the pot for Republicans by removing Obama and his cherry-picking approach to law enforcement out of the question entirely.

Yeah, such maneuverings are just not fair. They had been doing a fine job of hiding the intransigence of some conservatives on this issue, and Schumer took away their best hiding place, not that it matters:

House Republicans are running away from Schumer’s suggestion as fast as they are from the bipartisan Senate bill he sent them. Though what he has done used to be considered normative behavior in a previous era when it was accepted that compromise was necessary to pass a bill, many in the GOP view his concessions as a plot. Speaker Boehner’s office dismissed the idea as “impractical,” saying the delay would give the president no incentive to enforce the laws in his last three years in office. Though some Republicans are open to the proposal, it’s more than obvious that the GOP would rather have its talking point about Obama’s lawlessness exposed as a mere excuse rather than budge on its refusal to address the issue this year.

Okay, forget the Hispanic vote forever, and the votes of gays and the poor and the newly poor and those who cannot escape endless unemployment in thees hard times, and anyone else who worries they are next on the list of those who aren’t Real Americans, and talk only about Obama’s lawlessness. Yeah, right, that’ll do the trick.

It won’t, but over at the Weekly Standard, William Kristol suggests a double-reverse here:

So even Schumer is willing to have no legislation go into effect until 2017. In other words, the main sponsor of the Senate immigration bill, who has previously pretended immigration reform is urgently important, is acknowledging that in fact there is no urgency to act. But if nothing needs to go into effect until 2017, then Republicans have an even simpler solution: Do nothing. Don’t enact legislation until 2017.

And what, pray tell, does that accomplish? You’re still in that demographic very, very hard place.

Slate’s John Dickerson says there’s no way out, and that rock is still there:

Here is a key point: The conservative activists and grassroots groups who can punish members who vote for a bad immigration bill are stronger than the forces that are pushing for passage of the immigration bill. This is the shorthand Republicans use to explain the political balance of power. “The Chamber of Commerce and downtown lobbyists want it,” says one GOP leadership aide, “but they’re not going to primary anyone.” Absent the clarifying force of an outside group putting a lot of money or enthusiasm behind a challenger, Republicans in individual districts don’t face pressure from minority voters. There are 108 majority-minority districts and Republicans only hold nine of them. Of the 24 House Republicans who represent a district where the Latino population is 25 percent or higher, only a handful are vulnerable and could therefore be affected by a bold move on this issue that would affect voter opinions.

At Talking Points Memo, see Tea Party Ain’t Over Yet: How Conservatives Still Control Congress for much more excruciating detail, a complete history of the matter, and Daniel Larison sees the real split:

The House leaders are working on the assumption that passing an immigration bill is both desirable and beneficial to their party. Most of their party believes neither of these things, so they’re bound to be wary of anything that the leaders tell them in an attempt to sell them on what most of them regard as bad legislation. The difficulty that Boehner and his lieutenants have is not just that Republicans don’t trust Obama, but that most Republicans also don’t trust their own leaders on this issue, and with good reason.

Kevin Drum frames the problem more broadly:

Thanks to massive internal disarray, Republicans are unable to agree on any kind of immigration reform plan. They can’t say that, though, so they’re blaming it on the fact that President Obama is a rogue despot who can’t be trusted to enforce the law no matter what it is. He’ll implement the parts he likes and ignore the rest, just as he’s been doing for years with his sun-king presidency – so no immigration reform.

Also thanks to massive internal disarray, Republicans are unable to agree on a plan to raise the debt limit. Plan A was to demand the end of risk corridors in Obamacare (aka the “insurer bailout”), but that went nowhere. Plan B was to repeal the benefit cut for veterans that was enacted last month, which might have gone somewhere since Democrats are probably willing to go along with that in any case. But that didn’t make the cut either because it would have made it tough for tea partiers to vote against the bill. Plan C is to “wrap several popular, must-pass items around a provision to extend the federal government’s borrowing authority beyond the November midterm elections.” But even this plan is looking shaky.

The common thread here is that the Republican Party is unable to get its act together enough to look beyond next week. Both immigration reform and a quiet debt limit increase would benefit the GOP in the long term. But both would also infuriate the yahoo wing of the party in the short term. So far, the yahoo wing is winning.

Yeah, so what else is new? Somehow the Republican Party has spent every year since the Iraq War turned out to be a massive and incredibly protracted war for no particular reason at all, and Katrina wiped out New Orleans and the federal government did little while many hundreds died in its aftermath, and the entire economy collapsed in ruin in Bush’s final year in office, stuck between a rock and a hard place. But that’s probably because they want to govern the country and they hate the whole idea of government – they say so. Drown it in a bathtub. Put us in charge to get things done and we’ll do nothing much at all, and what we have to do, unavoidably, we promise we’ll do badly, to prove our point about the uselessness of government.

That’s the big rock and the big hard place. Everything else here flows from that core logical contradiction – the same old rock and the same old hard place from when the party moved from Eisenhower to Goldwater to Reagan, ending with the second George Bush. Immigration reform is a minor matter here. We’re watching one of our two major parties making itself disappear in its own contradictions. No one knows what’s next.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Between the Same Old Rock and the Same Old Hard Place

  1. Rick says:

    This one made me laugh, too, just like yesterday’s.

    Today, it’s the idea of all these Republicans trying to second-guess Chuck Schumer’s intentions, reminding me of that hilarious scene in “The Princess Bride” in which the Wallace Shawn character, having to decide which wine goblet is the one without the poison in it, tries to second-guess, then triple-guess and quadruple-guess the intentions of the Cary Elwes character. He finally chooses one and ends up keeling over dead, never realizing that both goblets were poison — he was bound to lose from the beginning, no matter which choice he made. To a certain extent, whether or not they know it, the Republicans are in that same dilemma.

    But then again (and this is not that funny):

    “Democrats may argue that they could get a better deal in 2017, especially if they lose the Senate in November.”

    Why all this talk lately about the Democrats losing the Senate? I thought the Republicans were supposed to be sinking in the mud, especially in light of our so-called “changing demographics”. If so, how come they seem to be making actual gains instead of merely hanging on to their heavily gerrymandered power base?

    A few years ago, I would have gone straight to Nate Silver’s blog to help me figure out what’s going on. Is there no new Nate Silver, now that he’s gone back to the sports world?

    As for this, from Daniel Larison:

    “Republicans stand to gain nothing if they help Obama achieve one of his legislative goals. Meanwhile, their “compromise” position of favoring legalization without citizenship so reeks of cynicism that it won’t be appealing to anyone outside the party. Indeed, favoring legalization without the possibility of citizenship is in some respects the most insulting position one can take, since it provides amnesty for those here illegally while keeping them as a non-citizen underclass that will continue to compete with American labor.”

    Pardon my French, but bullpoop!

    I myself see no long-range problem with separating out the issue of citizenship, putting it on the back-burner to be dealt with separately at a later date, since what we desperately need right now is a rational guest worker program.

    I am a liberal Democrat, and I would favor a compromise that legalizes the status of “undocumented” workers, allowing them to work legally without being harassed by authorities and employers, allowing them to travel without fear between here and their home countries, plus allowing them to pay all the taxes they are so often accused of evading.

    Let’s just say that I have asked “illegal aliens” I’ve known about this, and almost all of them said they would prefer being “legal”, even if it means they never became American citizens. In fact, some have said they just wanted to work here for awhile, then return home.

    The fear of creating a permanent underclass is not totally illegitimate, but I do think it’s probably somewhat over-stated, mostly because we’re not talking about a lot of people here, but also because an even more under-privileged underclass is what we have if we don’t pass reform.

    I realize that tying the two issues together in the same bill may seem to have certain political advantages — the main one being that we are unlikely to ever get a path to citizenship past the Republicans if we don’t attach it to the less onerous (to them) aspects of reform — but maybe it’s time for us to realize that, in doing so, we’re “making the perfect the enemy of the good”, and we need to stop doing that if we ever want to get these do-nothing Republicans to help us get anything done.

    Not that any of this will make a difference, of course, since I gather all this talk of immigration reform will remain nothing but talk, at least until that day that the Republican party disappears from the face of the planet.


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