One of the ways President George W. Bush famously tried to spend his political capital after winning re-election in 2004 was by pushing for a comprehensive immigration bill that included a long-shot chance for people who came to the U.S. illegally to earn citizenship. The bill died in Congress, thanks largely to Republican protestations about giving "amnesty" to lawbreaking immigrants. Now, President Obama is starting his own push for a comprehensive immigration bill on Tuesday, with an event in Las Vegas, and he has some help: A bipartisan group of senators, including on-and-off-again proponent John McCain (R-Ariz.), GOP rising star Marco Rubio (Fla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), plus Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
The bipartisan framework will be unveiled Monday, but the senators fanned out to talk it up on Sunday. Schumer gave a press conference, while Durbin, Menendez, and McCain went on the Sunday talk shows. McCain said that the bill will once again provide a way for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship, explaining to ABC News how he can sell that to skittish Republicans:
Look, I'll give you a little straight talk. Look at the last election. Look at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons, and we've got to understand that. Second of all, we can't go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status. We cannot forever have children who were brought here by their parents when they were small children to live in the shadows, as well. So I think the time is right. [ABC News, via ThinkProgress]
As for the rest of the plan's details, says Fawn Johnson at National Journal, the contours "are so simple that a Martian visiting the United States would wonder why politicians have been fighting about it for 15 years." Along with some arduous path to citizenship are "an ironclad way for employers to verify that their employees are legal, a smooth visa system for future immigrants, and robust border security." Will that plan, similar to the 2005-07 push, go through this time?
This is actually happening. That's the viewpoint of Capitol Hill aides, lobbyists, advocates, and politicians who have been involved in the immigration debate for 10, 20, and in some cases 30 years. They are psyched. They are scared. They are sober.... Administration officials have mulled every possible option for easing the paradox of too many illegal immigrants and a stilted legal system. The only real solution is broad legislation. ...
Everyone with a stake in the outcome fears that a misstep on the part of one political party will offend the other party and blow up the deal.... Liberals fear that Obama will be too dictatorial when he spells out his immigration reform plan. If his tone isn't deferential enough, it could alienate Republicans whose support is needed for anything to pass. Conservatives fear that Democrats don't actually want an immigration reform bill and would rather make Republicans look bad by alienating Hispanics. Whatever happens, it will play out in a big way.... There are three main hurdles to passing an immigration bill—citizenship, guest-workers, and House Republicans. Any one of them could scuttle the prospects of passage, but all are surmountable. [National Journal]
Many conservatives are somewhat less than pleased. "Hey, did someone set the clock back six years in Washington?" says Michelle Malkin at her blog. This "new" proposal sure sounds exactly like "Bush-Kennedy-McCain 2007 illegal alien amnesty," except this time Rubio's the ringleader. "Don't believe the hype from Rubio supporters that this warmed-over shamnesty proposal — another recipe for more illegal immigration, a bigger welfare state, and undermined sovereignty — is somehow new, improved and more enlightened." And not only would a "comprehensive" immigration bill "fail to win Hispanic support for the GOP," says Robert Stacy McCain at The Other McCain — it "would actually hurt the party." Obama and the Democrats will claim credit "while the people who oppose amnesty — especially blue-collar white voters — would blame Republicans."
Hold on, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. "Conservatives are really tired of losing elections," and Rubio has the bona fides to sell the plan. And as we saw with the "no tax hike ever" mantra, "a seemingly insoluble problem (e.g. weaning the GOP off immigration exclusionism) melts away if the timing, the messenger, the rollout, and the substance of a solution are well considered." Plus, the anti-immigration arguments just don't hold up to scrutiny. The law-and-order argument, for example, "has always been among the weakest objections."
A system with coyote smugglers, forged paperwork, no enforcement and tax evasion is not law and order by any stretch of the imagination. Moreover, if Rubio is on a roll he might want to explain that the pejorative "amnesty" applies only when there is no consequence for failure to follow the law. That is not what Rubio (who envisions a fine, back taxes, possibly community service and no preferential treatment for citizenship) has been proposing — nor has most every other plan out there. That term is a red herring, indicative of a lazy argument. [Washington Post]
Well, Democrats do have political motives, says Mark Z. Barabak at the Los Angeles Times. Obama wants to use immigration reform to help cement the West, once "a Republican stronghold, the land of Goldwater and Reagan and sagebrush rebels," into solidly Democratic terrain, so future Democrats "can devote more time and resources to red states like Arizona and Texas that should, the demographics suggest, grow more competitive in 2016 and beyond." The problem for Republicans — and hope for the bill's advocates — is that immigration may be a more potent "wedge issue" if Congress once again punts on dealing, finally, with America's festering immigration situation.