The 2014 Congressional Elections and Real Immigration Reform, Pt. 1

By Stanley Renshon on March 17, 2014

The nature and timing of any House GOP-sponsored set of immigration reform measures is obviously going to be dependent on the outcome of the 2014 congressional elections. Therefore, an obvious point of departure is to consider what would happen if Republicans kept control of the House, but did not gain a majority in the Senate, and compare that to what would happen if, as seems possible, Republicans gained control of both the House and the Senate.

If, as expected, Republicans retain and perhaps extend their control of the House, but do not gain control of the Senate, they will be in the same somewhat vulnerable and precarious position that they are in now.

They would face a relieved and emboldened president whose party had managed to hold on to the Senate. Republicans would still control the House, but whatever legislation they passed would still have to make its way through a Democratic Senate. It is unlikely it would survive the journey intact.

In that circumstance, Bill Kristol and Richard Lowry have argued:

House Republicans may wish to pass incremental changes to the system to show that they have their own solutions, even though such legislation is very unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. Or they might not even bother, since Senate Democrats say such legislation would be dead on arrival. In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill.

Democrats of course will attempt to overpower any House bill in conference and present Republicans with a draconian choice: agree to "compromises" that are heavily weighted toward the Senate bill provisions or decline to do so, opening up Republicans to another loud round of "anti-immigrant" name calling that would doubtlessly continue up to and through the 2016 presidential election.

Even if the House did stick to Rep. Boehner's pledge not to negotiate in conference with the Democratic Senate on bills that the House passed, it would be to the Democratic Party's advantage to pass its own "compromise" version, as above, and send it to the House to put Republicans in the very same spot that they occupy today.

Then the Democrats' benign-sounding, seductive pre-presidential election mantra would be: We tried to meet you (more than) half way and you weren't even interested in bipartisan compromise. Most Americans will not be familiar enough with immigration policy to tell a real from a pseudo compromise and the heat of a presidential campaign is not the best venue in which explore the differences. Those Democratic compromises would certainly still include all the major provisions of the Senate immigration bill — including doubling the number of legal immigrants, unlimited visas from backlog cleanup, and citizenship for almost all the country's 11.7 million illegal aliens, plus some further tweaks to immigration law enforcement.

Hence, if Republicans just retain control of the House, but do not gain control of the Senate, they would find themselves in a difficult, vulnerable situation gearing up for and going into the presidential election period.

Unless they do something about it.

Next: The 2014 Congressional Elections and Real Immigration Reform, Pt. 2