immigration legislation: a prediction

The future is inscrutable, and I’m bad at prognostication, but I suspect that Congress will pass no major immigration bill in the near future. Clearly, the congressional leadership would like to pass a bill so that they can avoid attacks for “doing nothing.” However, the gap between the House and Senate looks huge. For most Republican Members of Congress, it’s preferable not to vote up or down on a final bill that will be a compromise and not fully satisfactory to anyone. It’s better to have two bills stuck in conference committee and to be able to attack one or both. This is a great opportunity for Republican candidates to distance themselves from the congressional leadership and the president.

The risk, from a Republican point of view, is that a stalled bill will continue to divide the caucus and anger some key constituencies (especially anti-immigrant activists and conservative Latinos) right through November. Nevertheless, that’s a smaller risk for them than having to pass a compromise bill without any Democratic votes. If they’re lucky, TV will show footage of National Guardsmen watching the southern border and expressing support for their new mission. (I don’t think deploying the Guard requires any legislation.) The GOP leadership can also try to make something else–homeland security or gay marriage–the legislative priority in the fall. Meanwhile Republican candidates can inveigh against their own leaders for failing to pass the legislation that they think their own constituents want. The result will be the status quo (plus a short-term deployment of the Guard).

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