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House GOP pushes immigration reform to the brink

Associated Press

House Republicans have found themselves in an awkward position on the signature policy dispute of this Congress. A bipartisan Senate coalition has approved a popular immigration reform bill that enjoys the enthusiastic backing of President Obama, business leaders, GOP strategists, leaders from the Latino community, and a clear majority of the country.

The problem, of course, is that House Republicans, for reasons that range from mysterious to dumb, hate the bill and are eager to kill it.

So, what's a House majority caucus to do? GOP leaders and members met in a Capitol Hill basement yesterday afternoon for two-and-a-half hours in the hopes of figuring something out. They didn't come up with much, but they did reach one firm conclusion: House Republicans have no intention of even considering comprehensive immigration reform.

Meeting for the first time as a group to hash out their approach to immigration, House Republicans on Wednesday came down overwhelmingly against a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, putting in jeopardy the future of sweeping legislation that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Despite the resistance, Speaker John A. Boehner warned about the steep price of inaction, telling House Republicans that they would be in a weaker political position against a bipartisan Senate coalition and President Obama if they did nothing to answer the immigration measure passed by the Senate last month.

You'll notice a certain incongruity between those two paragraphs. On the one hand, House Republicans believe they have to do something on immigration. On the other, House Republicans believe they must destroy the popular Senate legislation.

That the Senate bill would probably pass the House if it were brought up for a vote -- and then become law -- is apparently an inconvenient detail that the political world no longer feels compelled to mention.

Complicating matters, House Republicans know what they loathe, but have no alternative solution. Indeed, nothing is even on the horizon -- Roll Callnoted that after the lengthy, behind-closed-doors discussion, "lawmakers said they were no closer to setting a timetable for action, formulating a strategy or building consensus on how to deal with a pathway to citizenship for the nation's roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants."

And that's where this gets a little tricky.

What House GOP leaders apparently now hope to do is abandon comprehensive reform altogether, and instead pursue a piecemeal approach -- one bill on an e-verify system, one bill on border security, one bill for Dream Act kids, etc.

Boehner has reportedly already reached out to Democrats to see if they might be willing to go along with this. Because they are not idiots, Democratic leaders don't seem especially fond of the approach -- they realize, of course, that this would guarantee the failure of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

As the process slowly implodes, House GOP leaders issued this joint statement, apparently intended to serve as a nail in the coffin.

"Today House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system. The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy.

"But they don't trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they're alarmed by the president's ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem. The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate."

By any fair measure, the statement is demonstrably ridiculous, and predicated on the assumption that the public is easily fooled by garbage talking points.

Americans "don't trust a Democratic-controlled Washington"? I'm sorry, did House Republicans lose their majority last night when I wasn't looking? Did Boehner hand over the Speaker's gavel to Nancy Pelosi while I was sleeping? Because if Democrats controlled Washington, immigration reform would pass.

The Obama administration "cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises"? This is not only a stupid argument, which has already been discredited, but it also suggests House Republicans will oppose literally any bill on any subject the president endorses, since they do not trust him to faithfully execute the laws of the country.

This is no small thing. Republicans have largely abandoned substantive arguments and policy concerns, and have instead been reduced to, "We don't trust the president." That's their right, of course, but it's worth noting that (a) the policies outlined in this legislation will be in place long after President Obama leaves office; and (b) no matter how much contempt GOP lawmakers feel towards the president, in five years, he's never negotiated in bad faith and he's never lied to them.

What are we left with? A House majority that won't compromise and isn't interested in governing. It suggests immigration reform may ultimately be impossible so long as Republicans control congressional levers of power.