The Real Stumbling Blocks to Immigration Reform, Pt. 1

By Stanley Renshon on December 29, 2013

The convention wisdom of the Obama administration and its allies, which is echoed endlessly by the press, is that it is the House Republicans who are holding up a bipartisan deal on comprehensive immigration reform.

In his year-end press conference, the president said, "We can get immigration reform done. We've got a concept that has bipartisan support. Let's see if we can break through the politics on this."

Elsewhere the president is quoted as saying, "The only thing standing in our way right now is the unwillingness of certain Republicans in congress to catch up with the rest of the country."

In the president's view, and that of his allies, it is "politics" that is holding this up. He defines "politics" as the small group of Republican House members who are keeping the House's own version of the Senate bill from coming up for a vote.

It is a rather flexible view of the term. When the president gets what he wants from the political process in the Senate, that's progress. When the very same expression of views of votes that is the foundation of legislative process results in his not getting what he wants, that's obstruction.

In an interview with Telemundo, the president said:

We've got a bill that passed with bipartisan support, strong bipartisan support in the Senate. You've got a president who says that this is a number-one priority and he can't wait to sign a comprehensive immigration reform bill. You've got the majority of the American public who are committed to immigration reform and support a pathway to citizenship for those who don't have it.

The only thing that's holding it back right now is John Boehner calling it into the floor because we've got a majority of members of Congress, Democrats and some Republicans, in the House of Representatives, who would vote for it right now if it hit. So this is really a question that should be directed to Mr. John Boehner. What's stopping him from going ahead and calling that bill?"

The president is right in some respects, but he is knowledgeable enough to know that he is also being misleading. Yes, the Senate bill passed with fourteen Republican votes out of 45 possible (31 percent of Senate Republicans). That number included the four Republican senators who had been hand-picked to be part of the Senate group putting together the bill because they had agreed in advance to its major elements. However, "all five Senate Republican leaders rejected the bill."

There were, then, enough Senate Republican voting to pass the bill to call the effort bipartisan. However, the deck was stacked, with only like-minded senators allowed to take part when the bill was drafted, and only major special-issue groups allied with those drafting the bill allowed to help negotiate its elements.

Bipartisan? To some degree, yes, at least in the politics of the more liberal-leaning Senate. The share of House Republicans supporting the Senate's bill is quite a bit less than it was for Republicans in the Senate, and that was rather low.

That opposition too is a reflection of "politics," just the kind that doesn't bring the results that the president prefers.

Next: The Real Stumbling Blocks to Immigration Reform, Pt. 2