In the early days of television, quiz shows were a staple, and none was more popular or enduring than "Beat the Clock". In that show contestants were required to perform tasks within a certain time limit. Their time remaining was counted down on a large 60-second clock in front of a live audience. If they succeeded at the task within the prescribed time limit, they "beat the clock". If not, the clock beat them.
Real immigration reform also is in a race to "beat the clock", but in this case the clock is an unfolding election calendar, whose results at each stage will present a series of opportunities and dangers.
It is well to remember the impact of time, and the attempt to make use of it in the next rounds of immigration debate.
The president promised immigration legislation during his first years in office, but on gaining the presidency he chose to focus instead on a personal legacy issue, heath care. As a result of that choice, the president lost his Democratic majority in the House, and the rest of his agenda, including immigration, became much more problematic.
The Senate immigration bill received a boost when the president won reelection and gained 71 percent of the Hispanic vote. This allowed both Democrats and panicked Republicans to make the same argument: The GOP had to do something, anything, to win over Hispanics or face electoral oblivion. The most immediate something that panicked Republicans could see as a life preserver was the Senate immigration bill, and they grabbed for it.
A state of panic is never a good condition in which to consider decisions that will have long-term consequences for the country, and this was no exception.
Enormous pressure was put on House Republicans to support the Senate bill, or failing that, something very close to it. It is both an act of political courage and principle that they refused to be stampeded and decided on their own step-by-step approach.
That approach, obviously slowed down consideration of immigration reform and the result has been predictable. Some were angry. Others were frustrated and demanded immediate legislative action. Others demanded the president immediately take more executive actions. Some took a policy disagreement as an occasion to gratuitously repeat their accusation regarding a "dark vein of intolerance" in the Republican Party. Others were either resigned or still hopeful, depending on the power of their wishes or analysis.
What seems increasingly clear is that by avoiding the panic that was evident in some quarters after the president's reelection and insisting on taking their time, House Republicans have given themselves and the country more time to think through this very complex and critical set of immigration policy choices.
Resisting enormous pressure to make bad choices, deciding to pause, allowing yourself to think further about a critically important set of choices for the county, and being prepared to move strongly ahead when circumstances are more favorable for real reform are not signs of a failure but of a triumph.
Next: For Real Immigration Reform, Beat the Clock, Pt. 2