The president may well be suffering the pangs of a legacy hunger, but Republicans won't be able to help him satisfy it with real immigration reform if they don't act. And, the immigration clock is ticking whether the Republicans act or not.
On the very positive side, political scientist John Sides estimates in the Washington Post that Republicans have an 82 percent chance of winning the Senate.
Yes, that's 82 percent, which, no matter what the caveats, and there are several, is a good place to be at this point in the election cycle. Naturally, as the chances for a Republican Senate victory increase, speculation about what Republicans will do if they win the Senate have also increased. From the left, the members of the pundit class' suggestions have ranged from a strategy of "obstructionism" to "gridlock" as usual".
There is, however, a third more likely and productive option and that is that Republicans will attempt to pass bills in several major areas that will put them in a solid bargaining position with a quickly fading president whose legacy desperately needs bolstering. There is some evidence that is already the plan.
The chances for Democratic support for compromise on legislative items like tax reform or the president's signature health care program are not very promising at all. That is why Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the Senate Republican in charge of finding common ground among the diverse GOP Senate caucuses, has already indicated that Republicans might turn to "reconciliation" in order to be able to pass tax or heath care measures with a 51 vote majority.
The dynamics of possible immigration reform are quite different. There, the question will be whether Senate Republicans can pass a reform bill that would gain both "moderate" Senate Republican support and the support for their decidedly more leftist Democratic colleagues.
For reasons, I've outlined, more "moderate" Republicans would, I think, support an immigration reform bill that mirrors House Republican rather than Senate Democratic views.
Assume for the sake of argument, that a Republican immigration bill included some form of legalization after a real evaluation of persons applying, but without an automatic path to citizenship. And assume further that such a bill required the implementation of mandatory workplace verification for all present and future workers, a functioning entry-exit system to track visa holders, and a robust set of border and interior enforcement rules that were enforced.
Were that to happen, Senate and House Democrats would be in a very tough place politically. They would have to decide whether to settle for an immigration bill they think is insufficiently "comprehensive", or oppose the bill leaving themselves open to the complaint that they are unable to compromise.
Doing so would also put them in a position of being blamed for scuttling the chance for an immigration bill passing and being signed by the president. Given that a substantial number of illegal migrants prefer non-citizenship legalization to limbo, a fact confirmed by survey research, they would find themselves on treacherous political ground.
Next: Passing Immigration Reform: Republican and Democratic Dilemmas, Pt. 2