The truth behind GOP's immigration reform sabotage

Some will claim that a busy legislative calendar is what doomed immigration reform. That's a cynical ploy

Published August 29, 2013 6:37PM (EDT)

John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann                                                                   (AP/Susan Walsh/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Joshua Lott)
John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann (AP/Susan Walsh/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Joshua Lott)

Now that we know the last four months of the year are going to be lousy with obnoxious budget fights and family holidays, it looks like immigration reform's already serious calendar problem has turned fatal.

It's gotten so bad that senior GOP aides now say the House's legislative efforts might bleed into 2014, and thus run smack into Congress' biennial election season paralysis.

That's all probably true. But it's as good a time as any to remind everyone that the problem is in another sense completely artificial.

It's still the case that the Senate's immigration bill would probably pass if Republican leaders put it on the House floor for a vote. Why on earth would House Speaker John Boehner make such a big show of insisting on majority-GOP support for a House immigration package if he didn't think the existing reform bill wouldn't pass with a minority of Republicans?

That arbitrary condition puts pro-immigration reform Republicans in the awkward position of having to find some reason to support the GOP leadership's legislative strategy, even though they know how unlikely it is to bear fruit in such a time-constrained and fraught environment. It's a pretty good bill, they acknowledge, but it won't or shouldn't get a vote because … something, something.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., has applauded the Senate's immigration bill, and even claimed that legislation along its lines would "help" the central California district he represents. But despite the time crunch he doesn't support putting that bill on the House floor. In an email to me last week, his spokeswoman said, "Many of the provisions of the Senate bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, have his support. However, he believes the Senate bill is flawed, and that the strongest immigration reform legislation will come out of a conference between the two chambers."

Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., is in the same boat: He makes highly supportive statements about the Senate bill, and yet is insistent upon a legislative process that will almost certainly kill reform altogether.

"I don't believe we're ever going to have a perfect solution, so I'm not somebody who says, well, gee, I've got 20 boxes and we've gotta check all 20 boxes in order for me to vote for a bill," he said at a town hall event earlier this month. "But I do think that the Senate made a good first attempt, I think the House of Representatives can make it better. And I think what the House is going to do is rather than one big omnibus bill, they're going to take a step-by-step approach."

So, yes, it would be silly to pretend the calendar isn't an issue. But it's just as important to keep in mind that the calendar wouldn't be a problem at all if getting a bill to President Obama's desk were a high priority for Republican leaders.

By Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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Aaron Schock Budget Debt Ceiling Immigration Immigration Reform Jeff Denham John Boehner Republican Party