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Immigration Reform Still Has a Pulse

Image: Rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the US Capitol

File photo of people showing their support during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington DC, USA, 10 April 2013. MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA

Immigration reform still has a pulse

If you're a glass-half-full supporter of immigration reform, you've seen a few developments over the past week suggesting that maybe -- just maybe -- there's still a chance to pass some sort reform this year. At an event in his congressional district in Ohio last week, House Speaker John Boehner mocked his GOP colleagues for being afraid on immigration reform. "Here's the attitude. Ohhhh. Don't make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard," he said, per the Cincinnati Enquirer. That remark led some observers to speculate that either Boehner still wants to get immigration reform done, or that he has no intention of remaining speaker (or in Congress) after this year. Next, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, last week expressed hope for an immigration bill by August. And then yesterday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who helped write the “Gang of Eight” legislation that passed the Senate last year, optimistically declared yesterday that immigration reform is going to pass by June or July. "I believe, hopefully June or July, we will have an immigration bill — it may not be exactly the Senate bill — on the floor of the House. They will pass it. We will come to an agreement. They will put that bill on the president's desk for President Obama to sign into law," Schumer said, per the New York Daily News. "The Republican Party knows if it continues to be seen as anti-immigrant, they're going to lose election after election.”

Glass half full vs. glass half empty

But if you're a glass-half-empty person, you also realize that immigration reform's prospects in the House aren't better than they were last month, or the month before that, or the month before that. For starters, more than 60% of House GOP members represent congressional districts where Latinos make up less than 10% of the population (so there is more of an incentive to oppose reform than champion it). Second, we’re already knee-deep in an election season, and the GOP sees the issue as something that divides the party rather than unites it. And third, Republicans don’t trust President Obama to implement the border-enforcement mechanisms (even if the law is written where implementation wouldn't occur until AFTER his presidency). The common thread here: The resistance to passing immigration reform is coming exclusively from Republicans. And immigration-reform advocates say there’s a solution for GOPers who say they want to pass something: put up or shut up. “There’s a simple way House Republicans can prove that they are serious about delivering on immigration in the interim. The first step is to actually introduce the legislation they are touting and to actually hold votes on reform bills,” says Frank Sharry of the pro-reform group America’s Voice.

The deportation wildcard

Yet there’s one wildcard in this immigration debate: the possibility that President Obama -- under pressure from supporters -- uses executive action to scale back the deportations coming from his administration. That was something the president said he was weighing during hisnews conference two weeks ago. “The only way to truly fix [the immigration system] is through congressional action. We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could. We’re going to review it one more time to see if there’s more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with I think the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn’t be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding.” Republicans have said that such a move would eliminate the possibility of Obama getting anything done on immigration in his last two years in office (read: they’re dangling the possibility that come 2015, with perhaps a GOP majority in the Senate, they would be willing to play ball). But Democrats counter that come 2015, the GOP will be in the midst of presidential primary season, and the candidates would have every incentive to blast any bill as “amnesty.” According to these Democrats, if a bill doesn’t get done this year, it’s not happening until 2017 -- or beyond.

WaPo/ABC poll has Obama’s approval at 41%

A new Washington Post/ABC poll presents some unwelcome news for the Obama White House after some relatively favorable press over the last few weeks: The president’s job approval is at 41% (down from 46% back in March), and opinions about the health-care law have gotten more negative (44% support it, 48% oppose it, which is a decline from March’s 49% support, 48% oppose). So that’s a plug to announce that our new NBC/WSJ poll is coming out first thingtomorrow morning. Will it show something similar? Or something different? And what is the public’s appetite for another Bush or Clinton presidency? Tune in tomorrow for the results.

It all comes down to turnout

In case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to read Sasha Issenberg’s piece in the New Republic breaking down the Democrats’ true disadvantage this midterm season: turnout. “Today the Republican coalition is stacked with the electorate’s most habitual poll-goers—or ‘Reflex’ voters, as we will call them. The Democratic Party claims the lion’s share of drop-off voters, or ‘Unreliables.’” Yet Issenberg notes how Democrats are trying to address their disadvantage. “The strategists engineering the party’s campaigns now have at their disposal databases containing the names of every Unreliable voter in the country, as well as guidance on where, how, and when they can be reached... Volunteers who live near those passive sympathizers can be dispatched; when in-person contact is unfeasible, carefully crafted letters can be sent instead. But all of these increasingly powerful tools also require money and manpower. This is why it’s not intensity scores on polls but rather the bustle of field offices and the sums on fund-raising reports that are the best guide to the Democrats’ midterm prospects.”

Having it both ways on health care

The rationale for Scott Brown’s candidacy for New Hampshire’s Senate seat is based, in large part, on his opposition to the health-care law. And that’s why Brown’s recent interview on WMUR raised eyebrows, because he appeared to support the Affordable Care Act’s most popular components. “I’ve always felt that people should either get some type of health care options or pay for it with a nice competitive fee. That’s all great, I believe it in my heart. In terms of pre-existing conditions, catastrophic coverages, covering kids, whatever we want to do, we can do it… And a plan that is good for New Hampshire, which can include the Medicaid expansion folks who need that care and coverage.” While Brown criticized the law’s mandates, medical-device tax, and the cuts to Medicare Advantage, all the positive parts he mentioned ALREADY exist in the health-care law -- the ban on denying those with pre-existing conditions, allowing young adults to stay in their parents’ plans, enabling states to design their own exchanges, and expanding Medicaid. And that’s the political/policy dilemma for Brown and Republicans: How do you support the popular stuff in the law at the same time you’re basing your candidacy on your opposition to it?

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