The immigration clock is ticking. Whatever the outcome of the 2014 congressional elections, the dynamics that surround the passage of the Senate's 2013 immigration bill, or some real reformist alternative, will be in play. If any immigration legislation fails to be enacted in the next session of Congress, immigration issues will permeate the 2015-2016 presidential campaign. If the House passes some immigration legislation, whether it does or does not become law, immigration will still be a part, though not necessarily a major one, in the presidential campaign themes for both candidates.
It would be prudent for those interested in real immigration reform to be prepared for either eventuality.
Waiting until after the 2014 congressional elections to seriously consider the GOP's next step will change the dynamic of the immigration debate regardless of the election results. Even if Republicans fail to gain a Senate majority, the immigration debate will shift.
If Republicans don't gain control of the Senate, Democrats will reintroduce their 2013 immigration bill. However, if Republicans pick up four to six seats, but not majority control, support for a reintroduced 2013 Senate bill from that side of the aisle is likely to decrease. That will make the massive, unread, and unworkable reintroduced Senate immigration bill, much like the president's health care bill, more strictly a Democratic rather than a truly bipartisan bill.
Moreover, at least one of the key Republican players who supported the Senate's massive bill may no longer be available as the young, earnest, winsome Republican face of a very left-center Democratic bill.
It's very unlikely that Mario Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the Gang of Eight's primary rhetorical shills for their legislation, is likely to play that role again.
He was badly damaged by his support of that bill and has been very busy trying to repair the damage to his reputation and national political prospects. He has been rapidly expanding the domestic and foreign issues on which he has been speaking out on, all in an attempt to, in the words of one profile, "put the bitter immigration fight behind him as he positions himself for what close allies say is an increasingly likely presidential bid in 2016."
Especially if the House does pass more real reform-minded bills, Mr. Rubio will be very hard pressed not to support them. And in that he will not be alone in the Senate.
One of the virtues of the House deliberations on alternative immigration measures is that there has been a certain amount of carry-over of immigration learning in the Senate because of it. Given the choice between a Republican House immigration reform bill (or bills) that emphasize internal and border enforcement, coupled with careful vetting of any potential change in immigration status applicants before pulling any legalization trigger and, on the other hand, a re-introduced Senate bill, most Senate Republicans, with a few predictable exceptions, will lean toward the House version.
And if Republicans do win control of the Senate, they will be able to transform the immigration debate.