Immigration Prospects Dim

Boehner on Citizenship: That Was Quick

02.05.13 5:02 PM ET

A wise observer wrote a week ago, with respect to immigration: "I'll believe Republican sanity when I see it." Oh, that was me! And guess what?

Now today comes along John Boehner to say that he's not so wild about this path to citizenship business. Politico:

"I think this is a very difficult part [for] any of these bills, and I want to just encourage members on both sides of the Capitol and both parties to continue to try to come to some resolution," Boehner said at a Tuesday news conference.

The pathway to legal status is a key component of the Senate's compromise proposal, which has been endorsed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The House is moving through its own immigration process -- the House Judiciary Committee has a hearing today on the subject.

Of course, it's unlikely that Boehner himself has passionate feelings on this one way or the other. What he is saying is that his caucus isn't going to go for it. And if his caucus isn't going to go for it, immigration reform is dead.

Greg Sargent says not so fast:

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that this could end up killing reform. The two critical pillars of reform are enforcement and a path to citizenship. Without both, the whole thing collapses. So by stopping short of accepting citizenship, House Republicans are putting immigration reform in jeopardy, right?

Yes, but all is not lost. The other way of looking at this is that House Republicans have not ruled out supporting a path to citizenship. Republicans have spent the past few years describing any kind of legal status as unacceptable “amnesty.” So hopeful Dems are noting that the fact that the door is now open to legal status is itself a sign of just how much the ground has shifted in the immigration debate.

I don't know, Greg. You and I have heard many times from those "hopeful Dems" over these last four years. Remember when Republicans were going to come to the table on health care because passage was inevitable and they wanted to have some input on the bill? Or when there was no way the Republicans were going to push us to the brink in summer 2011 and hurt our credit rating?

It's not my position that there's no chance of big immigration reform passing. Rather, it is my position that the Beltway consensus on this is about 60-40 (cautiously optimistic), whereas I'm about 20-80, on good days 30-70. Like I said, I'll believe it when I see it.

I was just on Geraldo's radio show with Ann Coulter about an hour ago. As we were talking about this issue, she kept discussing it in terms of "gifts"--Democrats' gifts to cheaters in order to turn them into Democratic voters.

I could never persuade Coulter of this and don't care to, but really, it isn't a question of gifts. It's a question of making policy. We have 12 million people in this country illegally. There are only three things to do: 1, nothing; 2, round them up and throw them out; 3, acknowledge that 2 is impossible and try to make the best of it by converting them into taxpayers and full-fledged Americans. That's it. The only possibilities.

It is completely obvious that only choice 3 makes any sense at all. Unless you think of citizenship not as a policy solution but as a "gift." Then you have to be against it. And that's where Coulter's one third of the country is. And it's where most House Republicans are.

Changing their view means changing an important, even foundational, aspect of how they see the world; they need to get over the emotional hurdle of being against rewarding the undeserving (as they see it). It's not impossible that it could happen, but it's not likely, which is why I say what I say: There's a 20 to 30 percent chance that enough House Republicans will jump that emotional hurdle. But no more than that.