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Immigration: Gains and Pains for GOP

Image: BESTPIX   John Boehner Holds Media Briefing At The Capitol

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) speaks during his weekly news conference February 6, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

What Boehner tapping the brakes on immigration reform means: short-term gain for GOP, but also long-term pain… Immigration remaining a political issue come 2016 won’t help the GOP… How to parse Biden’s comment on 2016… Obama to sign farm bill into law… A second-straight disappointing jobs report… 2014 eyes will be on Montana… Also watching Michigan’s Senate race… And RIP, Marty Plissner.

FIRST THOUGHTS.

Boehner tapping the brakes on immigration reform means short-term gain but long-term pain for his party

So much for those immigration principles House Republican leaders unveiled last week. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner hit the brakes on passing immigration reform because he said his GOP caucus couldn’t trust the president. “The American people, including many of my members, don't trust that the reform that we're talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be. The president seems to change the health-care law on a whim whenever he likes,” he said. “Listen, there's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. And it's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.” Although Boehner’s rationale is borderline illogical (if you can’t trust the president, why pass ANY laws? Hello, farm bill?), it does make perfect short-term sense for the speaker to hit the pause button here. As NBC’s Luke Russert points out, why take up an issue that divides your party, especially before what seems to be a favorable midterm cycle? Why poke your conservative base in the eye at the time when you’re trying to raise the debt limit? But in the long term, Boehner’s reluctance to push ahead is very, very risky, and it shows the limits of how much he’s willing to use his power.

Immigration remaining a political issue come 2016 won’t help the GOP

For one thing, the House not moving on immigration -- after the Senate already did so last year -- would make it clear to everyone that only one party is standing in the way of reform: the Republican Party. In the 2012 presidential election, Republicans were able to use this counter-argument on immigration: “If this is so important to the president, why didn’t he move on this in his first term when he had a Democratic Congress?” It was a fair rebuttal. But what the public -- especially viewers of Telemundo and Univision -- WON’T buy is: “We’re not going to consider this legislation because we don’t trust the president.” More importantly, hitting the brakes on immigration reform won’t do anything to solve the GOP’s demographic problems after losing the increasingly growing Latino vote by a whopping 44 points in the last presidential election. And while Boehner knows that bringing up immigration reform will divide his party, the problem is that the divide will still be exposed in the next presidential race. Indeed, just like Romney did in ’12, there will be political incentive for the GOP presidential candidates to move to the right on immigration in the primaries. We know how that turned out in the general election. By the way, one more point on this Boehner’s we-don’t-trust-the-president excuse: Obama is not going to be president after 2016, when much of the actual new immigration law (if it does pass) gets implemented.

How to parse Biden’s comment on 2016

Vice President Joe Biden discussed his 2016 thinking to CNN this way: “There may be reasons I don't run, but there's no obvious reason for me why I think I should not run.” That sentence is pretty easy to parse: I’d like to run for president, he’s saying (examples: his visit to Jim Clyburn’s fish fry, his wooing of key Iowa and New Hampshire politicos). BUT: there still could be reasons I don’t (the biggest one being Hillary Clinton). Bottom line: Joe Biden isn’t going to run for president if Hillary does. But if she doesn’t, he probably will. And so while Republicans are looking for a 2016 front-runner, the Democrats have two of them -- Hillary and Biden. Yet only one of them will be running for president.

Obama sign farm bill into law

Meanwhile, President Obama heads to East Lansing, MI to sign the recently passed farm bill into law. The Detroit Free Press: “After seeing firsthand the work of agricultural researchers at Michigan State, the president is expected to deliver remarks about the importance of the farm bill, which he will sign. The U.S. Senate gave final passage to the bill this week. Three years in the making, the farm bill represents some $500 billion in federal spending over five years, but it has pulled back on direct payments to growers and extended crop insurance to farmers who raise specialty crops, like many of those grown in Michigan. Bipartisan majorities ended up supporting the legislation in both the House and Senate.” Obama signs the farm bill into law at 2:10 pm ET.

A second-straight disappointing jobs report

The AP with the latest federal jobs figures. “Hiring was surprisingly weak in January for the second straight month, likely renewing concern that the U.S. economy might be slowing after a strong finish last year. The Labor Department says employers added 113,000 jobs, less than the average monthly gain of 194,000 in 2013. This follows December's tepid increase of just 75,000. Job gains have averaged only 154,000 the past three months, down from 201,000 in the preceding three months. Still, more people began looking for work in January, and some of the jobless were hired, reducing the unemployment rate to 6.6 percent. That's the lowest since October 2008.”

2014 eyes will be on Montana

The day after retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) was confirmed as President Obama’s next U.S. ambassador to China, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) has called for a news conference set for noon ET. And it’s widely expected that Bullock will appoint Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D) to temporarily fill the Senate seat. Walsh is already running for the seat in 2014, so this appointment could give him a leg up -- in both the Democratic primary and possibly general election (by boosting his name ID). That said, Republicans right now have the advantage in this race given that Obama got just 42% of the vote in the state in 2012. Then again, Sen. Jon Tester (D) was able to win re-election that year. The front-runner for the GOP nomination in this Senate race is Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT). By the way, the Senate confirmed Baucus by a 96-0 vote (with Baucus voting present). It’s a reminder that unless your name is Chuck Hagel, your Senate colleagues often will easily vote for you, regardless of the position or your party.

2014 ad to watch

Speaking of Daines, don’t miss the TV ad he unveiled this week in Montana’s Senate race. To us, it’s all intended to soften the image of a Republican congressman running for the Senate. “I’m running for the U.S. Senate because we need solutions, and Washington needs some Montana common sense,” Daines says in the ad. After several House Republicans LOST key Senate races in 2012 (think Denny Rehberg in Montana, Rick Berg in North Dakota, Connie Mack in Florida) -- several more House Republicans are running for Senate in 2014 (Daines in Montana, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, Bill Cassidy in Louisiana). So this is an important ad strategy to watch.

Watching Michigan’s Senate race

Speaking of 2014, it’s worth mentioning that the state where Obama will sign the farm bill -- Michigan -- could be a Senate race to watch in November. Yes, Obama won the state in 2012 with 54% of the vote (against a Republican nominee with big roots in the state). And yes, Democrats have cleared the race for Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI). But Peters hasn’t wowed yet. Meanwhile, Republicans have a decent candidate in former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. And the overall political environment isn’t necessarily that favorable to Democrats right now.

A second Quinnipiac poll in Colorado finds Udall, Obama, Clinton treading water

On Thursday, we wrote about a new Quinnipiac poll showing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s (D) numbers improving in this swing state. But hours later, a second Q-poll found numbers for Sen. Mark Udall (45% approval), President Obama (37% approval), and Hillary Clinton (trailing Paul Ryan and Rand Paul in ’16 hypotheticals) pretty much unchanged in the state.

RIP, Marty Plissner

On Thursday, CBS’s long-time political director, Marty Plissner, passed away at the age of 87. Before Plissner, there were no political units at any TV networks, no exit polling, no high-profile campaign coverage beyond the conventions. Then came Plissner, who built the first political reporting unit of any network. He also coined the phrase “too close to call” and changed the way networks covered political conventions. So we wouldn’t have our current jobs without him. RIP, Marty Plissner.