Only 20-some months after Latino voters helped propel President Obama back to the White House, Republican leaders will likely bring immigration reform proposals to a vote in the House this summer. Why wait? First, they have to get past the threat posed by their congressional primaries.
This is a pretty remarkable commentary on the imbalance within the party. The Republicans' very vocal, very energized far-right conservatives strongly oppose any measures meant to relax rules around immigration. The party's quieter, more moderate majority is less fervent; in most cases, the party's establishment recognizes the need to reach out to the Latino voting bloc. During the August recess last year, Tea Party activists pledged to protest loudly against any sort of immigration reform. And none happened, with House Speaker John Boehner repeatedly rejecting a Senate bill passed earlier in the year.
So here's the plan for 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal:
House leaders hope to bring legislation to the floor as early as April, the people close to the process said, after the deadline has passed in many states for challengers to file paperwork needed to run for Congress. Republican leaders hope that would diminish chances that a lawmaker's support for immigration bills winds up sparking a primary-election fight.
Emphasis added. Of course, the Journal may have helped tip the incumbents' hand on the issue; if you're a single-cause conservative, no reason not to file a primary challenge if you're worried about this plan coming to fruition. Earlier this month, the White House predicted that this would be the GOP's political play. Now the GOP apparently confirms it.
The details of the proposal are incredibly important and, as yet, unsettled. What comes out of the House will likely include increased border security provisions and some pathway to legal status for the 11.5 million people who are here without documentation. Republicans "will also offer citizenship for people brought to the U.S. as children, new enforcement provisions and fixes to the legal immigration system," sources told the Journal.
What's remarkable about the plan is its overt attempt to work around that vocal minority. There's been a power split between the party's right and far-right wings since 2010, when Tea Party candidates started beating establishment candidates in primaries — and then, often, losing in the general. The power of the Tea Party is electoral power, as much as anything. Get past that speed bump, keep things smooth until the primary issue is resolved, and the establishment regains control of the wheel. Why confront the insurgency when it has an expiration date for effectiveness?
To be fair, the GOP has threatened to pass immigration reform previously without anything coming to fruition. We'll see what happens once the primaries are somewhat settled. But the GOP may have hit on a solution that will get them past a longstanding roadblock — just in time for a 2016 primary season that could see the party's split at its worst.